BEREA — Brian Hoyer was exactly where he wanted to be: winning games for the hometown team as the starting quarterback.
Then it happened. His cleat stuck in the turf, Bills linebacker Kiko Alonso drilled him from the side and his right anterior cruciate ligament tore.
“That’s the most disappointing thing that’s ever happened to me,” Hoyer said Wednesday.
He talked for the first time since suffering the season-ending injury Oct. 3 in the first quarter against the Bills. He had surgery Oct. 18, has begun the rehabilitation and used two crutches to walk into the locker room.
Hoyer was living a dream and had become one of the NFL’s feel-good stories of the first half of the season. The North Olmsted native and St. Ignatius graduate replaced an injured Brandon Weeden in Week 3 and energized the team and city.
The Browns won all three of his starts, including the Buffalo game. Those are the team’s only wins against five losses.
“I hope that I was able to bring a spark and get this team going and I think that was accomplished and, to me, that was probably the hardest part,” said Hoyer, who had started one game in four previous years in the NFL. “Things were going really well and it gets taken out right underneath you.
“That’s what you come to play for and that’s what motivates me now when I come in for rehab.”
Hoyer doesn’t believe in players on injured reserve talking to reporters, but broke his rule to deliver a message.
“I’m doing great,” he said. “I want to thank everyone for their support, the fans, the whole city. Obviously it was an awesome two or three weeks for me and I look forward to getting back.
“But I do want to convey that message of how thankful I am for the support from within the organization from the top down and the city, as well, and it really means a lot. And it’s kept me up, my spirits up in a difficult time.”
Hoyer, who joined the Browns in May and is under contract for next year, impressed the coaches during his short stint. The Browns are still expected to draft a quarterback in May, but Hoyer could be a candidate to begin the season as the starter.
That’s dependent on a healthy knee. Hoyer said the rehabilitation time is usually six to eight months for an ACL and he’s shooting for the lower end. He said a silver lining is he suffered no other damage within the knee.
Coach Rob Chudzinski hopes Hoyer is ready to participate at some level in organized team activities in May, and Hoyer’s shooting to be 100 percent for training camp.
“That’s what you come in for every day and that’s what motivates you, so I can only worry about the next day and hopefully at some point you get back to 100 percent,” he said. “Obviously, it’s just not a simple ankle, not to lessen other people’s injuries, but it is a significant knee injury and I understand that and I’m taking the approach of coming in here and doing as much as I can to get back.”
The injury occurred when the play broke down and Hoyer scrambled to his right. The slide-hit combination was so ugly it looked like he could’ve injured both legs, his throwing shoulder and suffered a concussion. Alonso hit him in the ear hole with his helmet.
Scary or not, Hoyer made a point of watching the replay.
“I just had to make sure that there was no outlet I could’ve thrown it to and blame myself for that,” he said. “But they had it covered pretty well and really I had no other option. So I think the more you kind of go back and think of what you could’ve done differently, the more it’s going to stay with you. I felt like really there was nothing much different I could’ve done. Maybe slide a little sooner, but things happen so fast out there.”
He blamed the injury on bad timing.
“Yeah, it was the cleat and I got hit at the same time,” he said. “I think if either/or would have happened on its own, I probably would have been fine, but I got my foot down a little late and that’s when he was hitting me.”
Hoyer said he didn’t immediately know how bad the injury was.
“That’s the first time I’ve ever been on the field where I couldn’t get up on my own and so then I kind of knew that something was up,” he said. “But there was no ‘pop’ or anything like that.”
Hoyer couldn’t believe the ACL was the only thing damaged. But he’s grateful because the rehab will be accelerated.
“You want to come in and try to get your range of motion back and keep your muscles firing,” he said. “A lot of times it gets locked up and you can have some atrophy, so there’s a lot of stuff like that, some stretching things like that.
“I don’t want to ever come in here and say, ‘that’s it.’ I know we can do more and so Gordon (Williams, assistant trainer) has tried to tone me down a few days because I want to get after it. But I also know you’ve got to protect what just went on with the surgery.”
The last five weeks have been a roller coaster of emotions for Hoyer. The week of Oct. 13 was particularly eventful. He turned 28 on Sunday, his second child, Cameron, was born Tuesday and he had surgery Friday.
“Obviously I had one of the best moments of my life with my daughter being born. Then Friday you go in, and I’ve never even had a surgery before,” he said. “It’s a little nerve-racking but I got through it, I felt great, came out of surgery great and now I’m on to the rehab.
“It’s amazing how quickly things go. My daughter turned 2 weeks yesterday, so it’s flying by. Hopefully this rehab will fly by.”