Virginia football coach Mike London was asked this week at practice about the health of rising senior cornerback Tra' Nicholson.
"It's crazy what a big toe can do to you," London said with a chuckle, before confirming that Nicholson was back at full speed in spring practice for the Cavaliers.
Nicholson missed the final seven games of the Cavaliers' 2-10 season in 2013 with turf toe in his left foot. He finished the year with 20 tackles and four pass break-ups, and an interception at Pittsburgh.
And Nicholson admits that nothing about last season went as planned, for himself or his team.
"Along with being hurt, the season that we were having at the same time, it was a lot of adversity that struck all at one time," he said. "And I wanted to help my guys. I wanted to be able to be out there with them. My personal goals were crushed, and my team wasn't having a great year like we planned to."
"But this year is a new year, and I'm just happy to be back out here, and be able to get after it."
Nicholson arrived at UVa in 2011 as the first big-time recruit of the London era, a consensus four-star recruit was was Gatorade's state player of the year as a senior at Bayside High School in Virginia Beach.
Nicholson was running with the first-team defense basically from his first practice as a true freshman. In 2011, he became the first true freshman cornerback in 25 years to start a season-opener for the Cavaliers, and in 2012 Nicholson was voted honorable mention All-ACC by both the league's coaches and media.
Prior to hurting his toe last October against Ball State, he had started all 30 games in his UVa career.
"You miss a guy that, up until he missed, had 30 straight starts," London said. "And now he's an older, wiser player. His skills and technique have gotten better. He's like a coach out there on the field, as well. So we expect big things from him."
Nicholson was surrounded by seniors in the UVa secondary during his freshman season, when the Cavaliers went 8-4 during the regular season and was capped with a trip to the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
Now it's Nicholson who is preparing for his final season at UVa -- and he's starting to sound like a lot of the veteran leaders from that bowl team, as he looks ahead to 2014.
"We had guys like Kris Burd, Chase Minnifield, Corey Mosley, that were here when it was rough," Nicholson said. "And when they came out, their last year, they led us to a bowl game, and the younger guys followed."
"And that's what we're trying to do now. We're trying to set the standard, and let the young guys follow, so we can have a successful season this year."