TORONTO — A year ago, USF junior receiver A.J. Love was checking out of a hospital after surgery for a torn left ACL sustained in the St. Petersburg Bowl.
Six months ago, Love entered camp unsure of what he could do. Two months ago, he was forced to step up when leading receiver Carlton Mitchell went down with an injury.
Oh, how much of a difference a year can make.
Saturday in the International Bowl, Love capped a year of highs and lows with two touchdowns in the second half of USF's 27-3 victory over Northern Illinois.
"To tear my ACL … coming back this season and getting catches and some touchdowns, it feels real good," said Love, who caught three passes for 56 yards on Saturday. "I was real determined to finish this game, this season … to play as hard as I could."
After the Bulls put up just 95 yards in the first half, Love sparked the Bulls in the second.
With 5:12 left in the third quarter and the Bulls holding a slender 6-3 lead, Love, who had only one catch in the past two games, caught a 46-yard touchdown.
B.J. Daniels rolled to his right and threw off of his back foot to Love, who beat two defenders to the ball and powered his way into the end zone. Three plays earlier, Daniels hit Love for 3 yards on third and 2.
"B.J. was moving all over the place, which he usually does, and he found A.J. off the right side," USF coach Jim Leavitt said of the touchdown. "But the catch he made that was bigger was on the third-down play."
Love's second touchdown, a 7-yard strike from Daniels across the middle, came on the first play of the fourth quarter and made it 20-3.
"A.J. has worked incredibly hard for us," USF receivers coach Phil McGeoghan said. "Last spring, I watched him rehab tenaciously for six months to be back at full speed."
After Love's surgery, USF offensive coordinator Mike Canales and his wife waited in the recovery room to greet him.
"He was one of the first people I saw," Love said.
Canales said he was determined to let Love know he would be back strong.
"I … told him that he would be making a lot of plays for us next season," he said.
Love said that meant a lot to him.
And Canales was right as Love finished second on the team with 489 receiving yards. He said he hopes Saturday's performance helps him build toward next season.
"This feels so good," Love said, "getting into the end zone and being able to score points."