MIAMI -- The University of Colorado's quarterback situation for the 1991 season has taken a turn toward the unknown.
Junior Darian Hagan, Colorado's starter most of the time during a 22-2-1 run the last two years, underwent a two-hour operation to repair a torn patellar tendon below the kneecap yesterday following the team's return from its 10-9 Orange Bowl victory over Notre Dame.
Colorado head trainer Dave Burton said last night that it won't be known until August whether Hagan will be able to play next season, "But we're approaching this like he's going to play."
Hagan, apparently, isn't as convinced.
Upon his return to Denver before surgery at University Hospital, Hagan told a Denver television station he expects to be redshirted this year.
Others wonder whether Hagan will ever play again.
"It's a pretty rare kind of injury," said Dr. Wayne Gersoff, who performed the surgery. "It could or could not be a career-ending injury."
For example, Leon White, a 1977 All-Big Eight center for Colorado, suffered the same injury after his senior year and was never able to play pro football, though he now makes an excellent living as a pro wrestler.
Colorado coach Bill McCartney feared for Hagan's future. Before the team's departure from Miami yesterday morning, he said, "We've just got to keep our fingers crossed and hope [the tendon] did not tear in two. If it did, that's cause for real alarm."
Burton said the tendon was completely ruptured. "We'd certainly like to say only half of it was torn. But that doesn't minimize his opportunity of coming back.
"It's a very serious injury. Depending on how the tear was and how the repair goes, it could be a real problem."
Hagan definitely will miss spring practices. The knee, which he injured late in the first half of the Orange Bowl, will be completely immobilized for six to eight weeks. Gersoff said it could be four to six months before he begins rehabilitation.
Burton said Hagan's injury did not appear to be caused by contact. "He said he was running and felt it pop. Nobody hit him, he just cut and it popped."
Hagan has a history of tendinitis in the left knee dating back to high school. "He has received treatment for that year-round, but the last four weeks he did not complain of any pain," Burton said. "It must have been a time bomb."
Burton admitted that the rehabilitation process will be long and grueling. "The toughest part may be that he's such a competitive person, he'll try to do too much."
But, Hagan is not the only quarterback who might not be around for next season.
Colorado offensive coordinator Gary Barnett said yesterday that backup Charles S. Johnson, who helped rally Colorado from a 9-3 deficit in the second half Tuesday, may bypass his fifth year of football.
"He's considering just working on his grades and devoting more time to his political activities," Barnett said of Johnson, who is president of Colorado's Black Student Alliance. "He has told me we need to talk."
Hagan's injury could influence Johnson, but, Barnett said, "That's a tough call. He's got a real social consciousness."