Munchie Legaux’s on the mend at Cincinnati _lowres

Cincinnati quarterback Munchie Legaux (AP Photo/Al Behrman)

Cincinnati quarterback Munchie Legaux still has that hard-to-forget name.

But does he still have the hard-to-forget game?

The former Edna Karr High School standout was granted an additional year of eligibility by the NCAA after he missed almost all of his senior season of 2013 when he suffered a horrific injury in the Bearcats’ second game.

As he delivered an incomplete third-down pass against Illinois, Legaux was tackled low, his left knee twisting at a grotesque angle. He suffered a torn ACL and PCL, leading to surgery and an extensive rehabilitation — with no assurance that he would recover to the point where he could resume his football career.

Now the 6-foot-5, 200-pounder is back for his second senior season, but his place in second-year coach Tommy Tuberville’s plans is uncertain. Cincinnati has two new quarterbacks with whom Legaux must vie for playing time: Notre Dame transfer Gunner Kiel, the former five-star recruit who famously decommitted from LSU in 2012, and junior-college transfer Jarred Evans. Kiel took most of the reps in Cincinnati’s spring drills and, in the estimation of offensive coordinator Eddie Gran, “would be the starter if we were to play tomorrow.”

But Cincinnati doesn’t play its opener until Sept. 12, when the Bearcats host Toledo. That gives Legaux, who has not been medically cleared to resume full-contact drills, nearly two months to reclaim or at least compete for the starting job he finally won a year ago — a job he barely had time to enjoy after three seasons as a backup to Zach Collaros and Brendon Kay.

“I haven’t heard that (Kiel) is definitely the starter,” Legaux said. “What I was told by Coach Tuberville and Coach Gran is that it’s an open competition. That’s all I wanted to hear, that I’d be given a chance to come in and compete. That’s what I was told last year, and I was able to win the starting position. Let’s see how it plays out on the field this time. I’m willing to compete with anybody.”

Given that Legaux has always been a dual threat, as adept at making plays with his legs as with his arm, it remains to be seen whether he can play a significant role in the offense on a surgically repaired knee. But he has been diligent through the rehabilitation process and, although he was held out of spring drills, he has mostly stayed on campus this summer and is looking as well as might be expected, if not better.

“Munchie’s working his rear end off. He’s doing everything he can to get himself back on the field,” Gran said. “I think he’ll be back at or pretty close to full speed, but you never really know. ...

“What made Munchie really dangerous is that dual-threat thing as a runner and a passer. Is he a step slower now? I don’t know. A lot of times guys come back from these injuries and they’re actually stronger.”

Legaux — whose seldom-used given name, by the way, is Benton — figures he has put the worst of it behind him. In the ambulance on the way to the hospital, his face contorted in pain, his first questions were “Did we win the game?” (Cincinnati lost 45-17.) And then “Did I complete the pass?”

Then it dawned on him that there were larger issues to consider.

“Will I be able to play again?” he finally asked, as much as a supplication as it was a query.

A relentless optimist whose college major is organizational leadership, Legaux is daring to think positive. But he admits it took time for him to emerge from a dark cloud of self-doubt that often envelops athletes whose bodies have been betrayed by serious injury.

“Going into last season as the starter, I was aware that my job still was not done,” he said. “I had a full season ahead of me; I had to show what I could do to keep that No. 1 spot. Then I got hurt and everything changed, just like that. I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know what to expect as far as football was concerned, and I didn’t know what to expect about the outcome of life. The doctors were telling me I might not be able to play again but also that I might not even be able to walk right again. At that moment, I didn’t know what to do or who to turn to.

“But throughout the whole process, I just put my faith in God. I was on crutches for two or three months and basically had to learn how to walk all over again. But once I felt a little bit of progression with my knee, I thought, ‘OK, maybe I do have a chance to play again.’ I’d wake up, get out of bed and just walk around. You’d never think anybody could be so happy to be able to just walk around. It was literally a first step in my recovery. I’m still taking it one step at a time, not rushing anything. When I’m good to go, I’ll know it.”

In 31 career games at Cincinnati, Legaux has passed for 2,847 yards and 20 touchdowns. He also has rushed for 618 yards and five TDs, averaging 5.8 yards per carry.

“If you work hard, good things are going to come,” said Jabbar Juluke, Legaux’s coach at Karr who is now running backs coach at Louisiana Tech. “Munchie’s a competitor. He always has been a competitor, so I know he’s going to go out there and be himself. If the leg responds, great. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t. But he can only play the way he knows how to play, and that’s all-out. That’s what I expect of him and what he expects of himself.”

Legaux is in line to return to New Orleans on Oct. 31 when Cincinnati visits Tulane at Yulman Stadium.