He felt the pop on the first day of spring practice.

Master Teague III knew something was wrong. He felt pain in his foot, and he couldn’t put any weight on it. When he visited the team trainer, they discovered the source of the problem: a torn Achilles tendon.

It was doubly frustrating for Teague, who figured to be the top-returning back for an Ohio State offense that threatened to be one of the best in the nation. Wouldn’t it be fun to be part of all that? But the injury forced Teague to the sidelines, and it forced Ohio State to pivot. The Buckeyes looked to the transfer market, where they found insurance in Trey Sermon, a running back from the Oklahoma Sooners who was looking for a new home.

What no one foresaw was how determined Teague would be to come back, and just how his body enabled him to prepare for what could be a breakout season.

The heir apparent

Last year, Teague was a third-team all B1G selection by the media after rushing for 789 yards as a backup to J.K. Dobbins. At 5-11, 225 pounds, Teague looked the part of a bruising back, but he also impressed with his breakaway speed — he had three rushing touchdowns of 40 yards of more, including a season-best 73-yard score against Northwestern.

The Buckeyes faithful were excited. This kid was the heir apparent, and his temperament fit the role needed for the biggest stages.

He was quiet and humble. Friends and teammates characterized Teague as a man of faith. Hailing from Murfreesboro, Tenn., he talked in interviews about the importance of family, and how God helped him overcome much in his life.

But in the spring of 2020, he faced his toughest test. Coming back from an Achilles injury is normally a long, arduous process, and Teague would have to do so during a pandemic. That meant hours spent alone in his apartment, working his rehab to get himself back on the field.

Outpacing the competition

Teammates Tuf Borland and Justin Hilliard both suffered similar injuries in 2018, and both were able to return and are now playing significant roles for Ohio State.

Doctors said the timeline for coming back depends on the work ethic of the patient, the level of pain tolerance and the natural ability of the person’s body to heal. On average, it could take up to 10 months. But Teague was a different beast. Frequently, teammates would watch him come in to the team facilities in his boot to lift weights. The team set a series of benchmarks for him, and Teague outpaced all of them.

“Whatever he could do, plus some, was his attitude,” Ohio State running backs coach Tony Alford told Cleveland.com. “It doesn’t shock me though. Master is the type of young guy that will completely immerse himself into whatever he’s doing. We expected nothing different with his rehab.”

Continuing to grow

By June — just four months after the injury — Teague was running again. Suddenly, the Buckeyes looked like they might have two strong running backs for the 2020 season. It was nothing short of amazing.

Although he had no full-pads practices to test his foot due to COVID-19 regulations, Teague continued his rehab, and by the fall, he was at 100 percent and ready to start. It was a testament not only to Teague’s work, but also to that of the Ohio State medical staff, which paved the way for him to come back.

Once ready to play — and once the B1G decided to have a schedule — it only took two games for Teague to stand out on the biggest stage.

Against Penn State, the running back rushed 22 times for 105 yards and a score. A week later against Rutgers he followed up with this stat-line: 12 rushes for 60 yards and a score, with 3 receptions for 37 yards. Teague is becoming a consistent threat to get tough yards and find the end zone. Need an early conversion of 3rd-and-1 against Rutgers? Teague got 2 yards.

But he also showed some of that breakaway speed, too. Teague got the Buckeyes started Saturday night when he ripped off a 26-yard run on the first play of the game.

“I’m more proud of what I did this past week,” Teague told Buckeye Extra after the Penn State game. “But (I’m) still hungry to do even more.”

That has to be music to Buckeyes fans’ ears — because Teague’s increase in production could be the difference between Ohio State having a good season and a great one.

“Still got a lot of things I want to improve on,” Teague told The Lantern newspaper last week. “I think I will each and every week and continue to grow.”