CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas (AP) — Not long ago, Flour Bluff’s Jalen Campbell was living on cloud nine.
The Hornets were coming off a 13-1 football season, the best in school history, Campbell had been named one of the top recruits in the state at a Rivals talent camp on March 16 and the University of Texas had made him a rare sophomore-year scholarship offer on March 23. He accepted the offer a week later.
Then it came crashing down.
On May 23, during Flour Bluff’s spring game, Campbell tore one of his anterior cruciate ligaments. In the months since, he’s traveled the humble road of recovery from that severe knee injury, slowly working his way back toward the top.
The Corpus Christi Caller-Times (http://bit.ly/16Jcfoi ) reports Campbell was thinking razzle-dazzle and the end zone when he lined up to return the opening kick of the Hornets’ spring scrimmage. He fielded the kick cleanly, took it one way, then reversed field and juked a defender on the outside. He was about to take it back to the middle when a falling defender’s head whiplashed the side of his left knee.
“I heard a crack, but I didn’t think anything was too wrong,” Campbell said. “I just thought I got a little nick and I was down for a minute and in my head I was telling myself, ‘It’s not my knee,’ because I never wanted to have knee problems.”
After being checked out by the staff on the field, Campbell rose to his feet and walked to the sideline. He was kept out of the remainder of the game as a precaution, but he thought everything was going to be all right.
What he didn’t realize is that the only reason he wasn’t in greater pain is that he’d torn his ACL cleanly in half.
“There was no strain,” Campbell said. “So I was just walking around, hanging out, not thinking anything was wrong.”
He went to the doctor the next day more out of routine caution than concern, and an MRI was ordered for the same reason — the doctor expected to find a deep-tissue bruise.
When the phone rang at home later that day with the results of the MRI, it wasn’t the bruise they’d been expecting. It was the ACL, plus minor tears of the meniscus, and the Campbells were shocked.
Almost immediately, there were tears.
“My dad was like, ‘Oh my gosh,’ and my mom was crying,” Campbell recalled. “It was crazy, but I was just like, ‘Uhhhh,’ I didn’t know what to think.”
Campbell wasn’t the only one struck by uncertainty. His father, Shawn, worried what the injury meant for his son’s future.
“It was a sad day at the house to say the least,” the elder Campbell said. “It was very rough the first couple weeks, just not knowing and getting stuff going and being in limbo.”
But then came the support.
First, it was the coaches at UT, who Shawn Campbell called to inform of the news. The Campbells had been told before that when a player commits to Texas, Texas commits to the player, but it still felt like words before being put to the test.
It was a test the Longhorns aced with flying colors.
“(Defensive backs) coach (Duane) Akina talked to me and he wasn’t even worried about how I was doing (physically),” Campbell said. “He was more worried about how I was doing mentally, just making sure I was all good.
“He reassured me and told me everything was OK with him and Texas and I’d be fine.”
The Flour Bluff community also showed an outpouring of support. Campbell remembered all the congratulations he’d gotten when word got out he’d committed to UT, but this time the support was different. It was sweeter.
“Flour Bluff has been great,” Shawn Campbell said. “Everyone was like, ‘Is he OK? Do you need anything?’ I can’t say how many people called in Corpus Christi. It’s been overwhelming supportive on all sides.”
Riding the wave of good will, spirits around the household turned, and the recovery process began.
On Wednesday, Jalen Campbell gave Traci McCloskey, his therapist at NewStride Physical Therapy, a skeptical look.
“You want me to jump?” he asked.
She nodded and shared a bemused smile. Campbell hadn’t jumped since the day he tore his ACL. An action he’d never thought twice about before was suddenly a daunting challenge.
Gingerly at first, he jumped onto a low platform McCloskey had set out for him. Then he did it again, with more confidence. After a couple minutes, he was cracking jokes and smiling again — he could jump.
That’s what recovery looks like.
Campbell’s recovery started three weeks after he tore his ACL when he went to San Antonio for a surgery performed by the same doctor who’d once worked on Texas coach Mack Brown’s knee. Campbell described his operation as “going back in and injuring it again.” When he woke up from the procedure, his knee was already being worked back into shape.
“As soon as I woke up, I was in a machine that was bending my leg for me,” Campbell said. “So right out of surgery, I was already bending my leg again, making sure everything was OK.”
The next three weeks he was at rehab daily. That’s down to three days a week now. McCloskey calls him an ideal patient, saying he possesses the most important instrument to any recovery: optimism.
“He’s very upbeat, he’s always ready to work and he’s a real joker,” she said. “There’s not a doubt in my mind he’ll make a full recovery and do whatever he wants to do with that knee.”
Next week, Campbell expects to be cleared to run in straight lines for the first time since the injury. By late November, he’ll be cleared to use his knee any way he sees fit.
At that point, it will be back to the weight room to make sure he’s the same old Jalen again.
When Shawn Campbell was his son’s age, ACL injuries were career-ending.
“It’s not quite a twisted ankle, but it’s more common,” he said. “With modern technology, we feel that he’ll be stronger.”
Shawn Campbell said his biggest concern is making sure his son’s healthy knee stays strong while the damaged knee is strengthened by recovery. He has no doubts his son can still have an excellent athletic career — even though he’s more interested in what a degree from Texas will do for him — and the recent recoveries of high-profile NFL players support that confidence.
Not even two years ago, Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson tore his left ACL and medial collateral ligament near the end of the 2011 season. The following year was his best ever, as he ran for 2,097 yards and earned NFL MVP honors.
Yes, Jalen Campbell will miss his junior season, but he’ll be back after that, and he still has a career with the Longhorns.
“I was on a really good track, and this threw me off a little bit,” he said. “But the overall challenge is staying positive about it and coming back better than I was.”
A newer, stronger ACL isn’t the only thing Jalen will pick up from the recovery process. He’s also learned a few life lessons.
“I think he understands now that he plays football, but it doesn’t define him,” Shawn Campbell said. “If he couldn’t play tomorrow, that wouldn’t mean he’s a failure or not the same person. That’s where I think he’s grown.”
Jalen Campbell will be on the field when Flour Bluff opens its fall football camp Monday, and he’ll be on the sideline Aug. 30 when the Hornets kick off their season against King, but, for one season, he’ll be there as a supporter, not a player.
For one season, he’s OK with that.
“At the beginning, it was real sad (and) I was real down,” he said. “But since I have such a big future ahead of me. I saw the big picture; it’s all right. I’ll be OK.”
This is an AP Member Exchange shared by the Corpus Christi Caller-Times