Linden Gaydosh can't wait to put the pads back on.
In fact, the Carolina Panthers' sophomore defensive lineman is so anxious to get going, he's leaving for Charlotte, N.C., on Saturday. That's well ahead of the start of organized team activities April 21.
But there's a good reason for the six-foot-four, 305-pound Canadian's eagerness. Gaydosh, 23, of Peace River, Alta., spent his rookie NFL season on injured reserve after undergoing surgery last August for a herniated disc in his back.
The former University of Calgary star -- who was selected first overall in last year's CFL draft by the Hamilton Tiger-Cats -- was injured while performing a conditioning drill.
"Going back now I feel I have a chip on my shoulder and something to prove," Gaydosh said during a telephone interview Friday. "Not only to the Panthers but to myself.
"The biggest thing is I've got to go there and prove to myself that I'm 100 per cent and healthy. There's only so much you can do in the off-season until we get the pads on and contact starts. Everything with the surgery, rehab and my training has been perfect and the first guy I go up against I'll want to hit as hard as I can to see how it feels."
Gaydosh went under the knife Aug. 7 and wasn't cleared medically until Jan. 14. He said he's experienced no setbacks this off-season and has made steady gains in the gym with his deadlift and bench press both being over 400 pounds.
That's a far cry from the weights he handled to start his rehab.
"It was the classic five-pound weights," he said with a chuckle. "It was like, 'Here, lift these,' and I'm, 'OK, this will be fun,' but you've always got to start somewhere and it was making sure all the small muscles around the surgery site were strong enough before we did anything too hectic.
"I kind of knew it was coming but I still didn't want to do it. I wanted to jump ahead and assume I could skip all that and be good to go but they wouldn't let me. I tried but they were pretty adamant about maintaining my weights."
Gaydosh, who signed a three-year deal as a rookie, has had to show restraint in the weightroom and resist the temptation to step into the squat rack.
"I'm not cleared for (squats) which is why I'm focusing heavily on deadlifts, lunges and stepups but I had a great squat before my injury," he said. "We've found alternate ways to train legs and that's fine but it's kind of an ego blow not being able to put five plates on each side, back to where I was.
"It's terrible because I watch my roommates squat and put up numbers I know I can beat. That's my competitive side and it eats away at me but at the same time I know I can't so let it go, let it go."
Especially when Gaydosh considers what he stands to lose if he suffered a major setback -- or worse, a career-ending injury -- merely feeding his ego.
"You'd never see me again," he said. "I'd run away to the bush and become a mountain man."
Besides, Gaydosh has already been through one career scare. Moments after injuring his back, Gaydosh admits he initially thought his days playing football were over.
"That was the first thing that went through my head," he said. "I spent the last eight years trying to get to this point and here it was all lost in the blink of an eye.
"But medicine today is outrageous. The scar I used to have was six inches long and how it's down to about an inch and a half. You can still see it but anyone not knowing about the surgery wouldn't know what that mark was all about."
Still, it was a very sobering experience for Gaydosh.
"I definitely thought I was invincible up to that point," he said. "That changed that thought process pretty quick.
"This (pro football) isn't something everyone gets the chance to do and there's a reason why. It's a tough sport and this type of thing can happen at any time."
For Gaydosh, being forced to watch an entire football season for the first time was difficult enough.
"It was the first football season I never played in, that was tough," he said. "I've never been a fan of watching because it just makes me want to play too much."
However, Gaydosh remained with the Panthers throughout the season, attending meetings while undergoing regular rehab.
"When I got hurt, I was like, 'They're going to cut me, give me an injury settlement, send me home and I'll have to do all this (rehab) on my own,' " Gaydosh said. 'But my dad told me, 'Look at this from a business standpoint. If they think it's worth it they'll invest in you and keep you there,' and that's essentially what they did.
"He looked at it much more clearly than I did at the time. Leave it to parents to talk sense into you."
Gaydosh said having the benefit of a full NFL season under his belt will help him in 2014.
"I feel a lot better going into it now," he said. "I learned a lot about the mental aspect of the game last year and that's a big confidence boost in itself.
"I have a pretty decent grasp of the playbook so that's not going to be as hard as it was last year. Luckily the (Panthers) system wasn't much different from what we ran at Calgary as (Dinos head coach Blake Nill) also ran a pro-style system so that wasn't a huge adjustment."
When OTAs finally get going, Gaydosh is expecting the excitement of being back playing football to dominate his thoughts, not deep-rooted concerns whether his injury has fully healed sufficiently to handle the physical demands of the defensive line.
"We'll go through OTAs getting through a lot of the football movements in the beginning with pads," he said. "There will be some contact going on.
"It's just getting used to that motion and being able to see how I handle being put back into those situations again."