Hightower was one of the nation’s top young linebackers before he tore the anterior cruciate ligament, medial collateral ligament and meniscus in his left knee four games into the 2009 season. He declared himself fully healed and then some Saturday.
“I feel a lot more fluent as far as my movements go,” he said. “I feel as fast as I’ve ever felt, even before my knee injury. I’m definitely moving in the right direction.”
If that’s true, some lucky team could get a steal in April’s draft. Hightower’s combination of size and speed has him projected by many as a late first-round pick, but the 260-pound inside linebacker might be better than that.
Hightower never doubted that he would eventually return to full strength despite the slow recovery.
“I knew I was going to be out for a time, so I wanted to minimize that time to as short as possible and maximize it in the rehab room and doing all the right things,” he said. “I definitely feel like I’m about to where I need to be.”
After missing most of 2009, he returned in 2010 and had 69 tackles. As a junior last season, he anchored the nation’s best defense, was a finalist for numerous national awards and helped the Crimson Tide win the national championship.
Hightower said overcoming the injury made him a stronger person.
“I knew what it was going to take,” he said. “I set my mind to it and prayed to God every night, and that really helped me out.”
• Iowa tackle Markus Zusevics’ NFL combine workout ended Saturday after he injured a pectoral muscle doing bench presses, according to a person familiar with the player.