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Muilenburg picking up where he left off

Dakota Wesleyan University wide receiver Anthony Muilenburg catches a pass during practice Wednesday on the DWU practice field. (Aaron Saunders/Republic)

Dakota Wesleyan University wide receiver Anthony Muilenburg admits watching his teammates take the field last season was one of the hardest things he had to watch.

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The 6-foot-2 receiver was forced to miss all of last season due to a fractured fibula he suffered during a pickup basketball game in December 2011.

"I thought it was going to be the longest year of my life," the Sioux Falls Lincoln graduate said. "I had never had that bad of an injury before, so it was tough. There were times when I was down about the situation, but my teammates, coaches and family kept encouraging me."

In anticipation for his return, Muilenburg did a lot of balance work to get full mobility back in his ankle. Muilenburg said it took months to fully recover but doing tons of therapy and rehab got him back on the field.

Muilenburg returns to the field this season with one thing in mind -- a Great Plains Athletic Conference championship.

"We want a playoff berth," Muilenburg said. "That is something we haven't been able to do since I have been here."

Prior to the injury Muilenburg was anything but mediocre. In three seasons, Muilenburg amassed 160 receptions and 1,793 yards -- both marks rank in the top five in school history.

As a freshman, Muilenburg hauled in 37 passes for 330 yards. He improved on both totals as a sophomore hauling in 59 passes for 638 yards and three touchdowns. His best year came in year three, when he caught 64 passes for 855 yards and 15 touchdowns.

For his big-time junior season, he was selected first-team All-American by the American Football Coaches Association and an all-GPAC first-team offense selection.

After missing all of the 2012 season, Muilenburg made his triumphant return to the field Saturday when he picked up where he left off. He scored three touchdowns on seven catches and amassed 128 yards to lead the Tigers.

"I am glad that I could take that season off, so that I can get all the way healed and not have to comeback mediocre," Muilenburg said. "It was great to be back on the field Saturday, I was looking forward to it all summer. I was anxious going through two-a-days, then having to wait for three weeks for the opener.

"I was also a little bit nervous because I hadn't played in over a year. I didn't really expect the game I had, but I just went out there and played hard."

Two people were very happy to see the All-American wide receiver return to the field -- second-year coach Ross Cimpl and quarterback Jon Bane.

In Cimpl's first season at the helm, for the Tigers went 6-4 overall and 5-4 in the GPAC.

"He is an All-American for a reason," Cimpl said. "He is a guy we are counting on to do a lot of different things, not only receiving-wise but blocking and being a leader. He can also change a game for us like the 87-yard TD reception he had Saturday, and teams have to prepare for that."

Bane has been throwing to Muilenburg since 2010. Prior to Wednesday's practice, Muilenburg could only describe the connection the two have on the field as crazy.

"Bane and I, we just click," Muilenburg said. "We have always had great chemistry. When he came in his first year, we always stayed after practice and worked on routes. I trust him to get me the ball and he trusts me to catch it."

Muilenburg and the Tigers open conference play against Briar Cliff University at 1 p.m. Saturday at the DakotaDome in Vermillion.