TAMPA — Connor Barth said the move that tore his right Achilles tendon wasn't spectacular or showy. He simply planted his right foot while playing in a celebrity basketball game in July 2013 and, just like that, the Bucs' franchise leader in field-goal percentage was out for the season.
"It wasn't anything athletic, I'll tell you that," Barth said of the injury. "I wish I could say I was trying to dunk or something, but just a fluke. Just planting and cutting on it. It wasn't even very fast."
The initial tear didn't hurt, Barth said, but instead felt as if someone had stepped on the back of his shoe and pulled it off his heel.
"I thought my shoe was off, and I looked down and it's still tied up tight and I'm like, 'Okay, that's not good,' " Barth said.
Surgery and rehabilitation were new territory for Barth, who until then hadn't missed a game due to injury going back to his freshman year of high school.
"I'd never pulled a muscle or anything, so it was different," Barth said. "When it happened I was like, 'Wow, is this real life?'"
Recovery from a torn Achilles usually takes six to 12 months, and Barth says he is now glad his injury happened just before training camp because it let him take as long as he needed without missing any extra games.
But that also meant he was essentially an absent figure during the 2013 campaign as rehab in his home state of North Carolina replaced locker room camaraderie.
His main contact with the team would come on game days when he would travel to Tampa to watch his teammates and coaches.
"The worst part is just not being in the locker room with the guys, and that's one of the biggest things you miss," Barth said. "I got to go down to the field for the pregame stuff and talk to the coaches and joke around with the guys, and after that I would go up in the club level where I would sit with my family and just watch from there. It was tough, but it makes you realize how blessed you are to play this game."
Barth, 28, who joined the Bucs in 2009, had been reasonably comfortable in his starting role before the injury. In addition to holding the club record for field goal percentage at 84.3, Barth ranks fifth in field goals made and attempted and is the team's sixth leading scorer all-time.
Rian Lindell, who is not in Bucs camp this year, took most of the kicking responsibilities during the 2013 season, hitting 23 of 29 field goals.
But Barth says he tried to focus on his recovery instead of worrying about job security.
"You're always going to (have that worry) in the back of your mind, but the main thing for me and my family was first things first, just get healthy, heal up your leg and the rest will take care of itself," Barth said. "That's what I did. The main focus for me was let's just get healthy, because even if I never play football again at least I want to be able to be normal and active again and do the hobbies I have."
Barth's right foot was in a cast for three months after surgery, leaving the kicker to reverse weeks of atrophy in his calf in addition to strengthening his reconstructed Achilles.
After months of exercises to increase his range of motion, including calf raises and lunges, Barth says his foot now feels just as it did before that ill-fated basketball game.
"Hopefully it's stronger than it was before," Barth said. "My swing's good and I'm hitting the ball well, and that's what's important."
Contact Victoria Jacobsen at [email protected] Follow @TwitrlessVicky.