IRVING, Texas - If he had caught the ball, Raymond Radway almost definitely would've made the Dallas Cowboys.
Sandwiched between two Miami Dolphins defenders, the 24-year-old thought he had a chance to go up and grab what would've been the game-winning touchdown in the 2011 preseason finale, a game made for guys just like him, undrafted free agents hoping to make one last impression.
To snatch the ball out of the air at its highest point, he needed to time his jump just right. Instead, the timing couldn't have been worse.
Rather than digging into the Sun Life Stadium grass and exploding upward, Radway planted his left foot just slightly off balance. His ankle started to roll, but the weight of his body drove him downward toward the turf, the force of that sudden friction cutting right through his tibia and fibula, the ball bouncing off through the sideline, a distant memory.
Radway motioned for help. First came teammates, then the medical staff. Then more medical personnel. Then opponents. Then a cart to hoist him onto. Then more teammates.
All the while, the clock showed 0:03. Raymond Radway was that close to making the Cowboys out of little Abilene Christian. And just like that, he was so far away.
Eight long months later, near fully-recovered, he feels close again.
"Everything is full-go right now," Radway said recently. "I'm cutting, I'm running routes. ... As far as the speed, I'm at about 95 percent of where I was, but I can feel it coming back. It's looking promising."
Standing 6-3, 198-pounds and featuring as much top-end velocity as any deep threat in the NFL, Radway joined the Cowboys last summer as a raw but very promising talent. Impressing coaches and scouts at "Dallas Day," the workout for local prospects, he bought himself a ticket to training camp following the offseason lockout. First in San Antonio and later at Cowboys Stadium and during the preseason games, Radway was making such progress, standing out more than his young competition at wide receiver. An unknown looking more and more like a contender for the 53-man roster.
And then the injury. After he had come so far, the finish line disappeared just before Radway could cross it.
With emergency surgery scheduled, Radway flew back after the Dolphins game on the private jet of Jerry Jones. Pain-killing medication did its job, giving Radway time to think. With his football career in question, if not the direction of his entire life, the young man took solace in an encouraging conversation with the Cowboys' owner.
"Jerry Jones had talked to me on the plane ride back home," Radway said. "After that, I was pretty much just ready to do my rehab and push hard at that and wait for my chance to get back out there. Everyone was saying that it was a clean break and the recovery on this would be full. So, I just tried to focus on coming back. I didn't want to get myself down and have that affect my recovery. I just wanted to push hard and try to get back as soon as I could."
After such a serious injury, the quickest Radway could possibly recover was this spring. He carried himself on crutches first, then a walking boot. He managed to stand on the leg, then walk, then jog.
And as of three weeks ago, he's been doing everything else an NFL receiver needs to do, admittedly a bit timid at times on his cuts, but he's getting there. After so long on the shelf, things don't return to normal with the snap of a finger.
Next up for Radway is this weekend's rookie minicamp, his first time running through organized team drills since last summer's preseason finale. It could be difficult to get through, he knows.
"My wind is OK," Radways said. "It's just the repetition on the leg and being able to run those routes, full speed, over and over again. That's what I'm trying to get back right now."
Though he's been out of sight for much of the last year, the Cowboys have not put Radway out of their minds. Coaches and front office members now mention him in the same breath as Kevin Ogletree, Andre Holmes, Dwayne Harris, Danny Coale and all other comers in the competition for the vacant third wide receiver job.
With still a ways to go before he is back in the same position he was last summer, Radway is not laying out specific goals right now. Instead, he's taking the ongoing recovery day by day.
"I'm just focusing on working hard," Radway said. "Whatever that hard work gets me, whatever role it gives me, I'm going to take full advantage of it."