Munchie Legaux didn’t give up on himself or his football dreams after he suffered a possibly career-ending knee injury in Cincinnati’s second game of the 2013 season — his first as the Bearcats’ starting quarterback.
Legaux, an Edna Karr High School graduate, was granted an extra year of eligibility by the NCAA, and he willed himself through months of a grueling rehabilitative process to get himself ready to play again.
Legaux didn’t lose faith when he relinquished his hard-earned starting status to Gunner Kiel, the former five-star recruit and one-time LSU commitment who had transferred into the program from Notre Dame and promptly passed for 418 yards and a school- and American Athletic Conference record six touchdowns in the season opener, a 58-34 rout of Toledo.
At that point, Legaux seemed destined to spend his final year of college eligibility watching from the sideline.
But things have a way of changing, for better or worse, over the course of a long season, and Legaux’s patience and perseverance appear to have been rewarded.
Regardless of whether he or Kiel starts in Friday night’s nationally televised AAC matchup against Tulane in Yulman Stadium, it seems a safe bet that Legaux will play — not only in his much-anticipated return to his hometown, but throughout the rest of the Bearcats’ schedule.
The 6-foot-5, 200-pound Legaux is coming off his most eye-opening statistical effort to date in a Cincinnati uniform, completing 14 of 15 passes for 121 yards and scoring on a 9-yard run in relief of an injured Kiel in last week’s 34-17 victory over South Florida.
Along the way, he earned praise from coach Tommy Tuberville’s and no small amount of admiration.
“Coming off a good performance last week, I think he’ll give us some spark,” Tuberville said of Legaux, although the third-year coach remained noncommittal about which quarterback will take the field for the first offensive series against Tulane.
“It all depends on how Munchie practices this week. I’m kind of intrigued. Our players are rallying around Munchie.
“Gunner’s our starter, but he’s still a little sore (ribs) and he’s probably going to be like that the rest of the year. I want him to be 100 percent; I think it’s important that he be 100 percent. Physically, Munchie will never be 100 percent again, but he’s pretty close. And he’s working to get those demons out of his head from having that horrible injury. I see a lot of confidence in Munchie, in terms of motivation. I think it’s exciting for him to play in his hometown of New Orleans. Now he has to go out and get it done on the field.”
The “demons” to which Tuberville refers to are any lingering doubts that Legaux — one of the nation’s top dual-threat QBs coming out of high school — has regarding the sturdiness of his surgically repaired left knee, the one still encased in a cumbersome brace. It is a constant reminder of what he has lost, but also of all he has regained.
“I would say, percentage-wise, I’m close to where I was before the injury — maybe 90 or 95 percent,” said Legaux, who tuned 23 on Sept. 27. “But I’m getting there. As far as the injury, I think about it a little bit. ‘Can I make this cut?’ I second-guess myself at times. Other times, I just react instinctively. It all depends on how I’m feeling.”
Tuberville said Legaux never doubted that his chance would come — and that when he did, he would make the most of it.
“I told him all along, ‘You have to stay in the game (mentally). I know you’re not playing much, but your turn is coming,’ ” Tuberville said. “And, of course, it came last week.
“He didn’t play much in the second half against Memphis (a 41-14 loss on Oct. 4), but last week, he did a good job. He made sound decisions. I’m excited about him getting the opportunity to play again and, hopefully, quite a bit in the next five or six games.”
Friday’s matchup would seem to favor Tulane (2-5, 1-2 AAC) on one way; the Green Wave is 7-0-1 all-time in on-campus games played on Halloween, although the last such game was in 1974. But Cincinnati (4-3, 2-1), the preseason AAC favorite, comes in on a two-game winning streak and with expectations of appearing in a bowl game for the eighth time in nine seasons.
“We don’t want to look forward too much or to overlook Tulane,” Legaux said. “We need to win this one first, then take it week by week. Hopefully we can win out, win the conference and be in a great bowl game.”
In any case, Legaux, who expects “about 50” family members to be in attendance, said he won’t allow his emotions to run wild in a return to the city of his birth. He realizes there is more at stake than a personal homecoming.
“I’m not going to let the occasion get to me, being back in New Orleans, Halloween, national television and all that,” he said. “I’m just going to focus on playing the game and doing whatever I can to help my team win. I’m just enjoying the moment. I can’t forget how much I’ve overcome ... a lot of obstacles, a lot of adversity.”