Injuries are an inevitable part of football. Often, those tend to be just scrapes and bruises that leave a player out of a game for just a few plays, if at all. On the other side, there are potentially career-altering injuries. In Florida State’s case, a torn meniscus to star defensive back Derwin James and a torn ACL to promising offensive lineman Landon Dickerson during the 2016 season.
For fans, it’s just a matter of waiting the many months for the player to return. However, for the athletes themselves, its a grueling, multiple-month long journey that is just as difficult, if not more, than playing in those missed games.
James tore his meniscus in FSU’s second game of the 2016 season against Charleston Southern. After surgery, the current redshirt-sophomore would go on to miss the remainder of the Seminoles’ season. When he returns to the field against Alabama, it will be 357 days since James suffered that injury, the last time he logged regular-season game action.
Before a player is able to recover physically, there is a mental hurdle to overcome. A voice in the back of his head reminding him of that injury. A voice telling him not to perform certain moves he did before the injury in fear of re-aggravating that injury.
For James, it was a matter of going slow and not treating every practice like a game: “Not trying to move too fast, not trying to make the big play every play, just working. The little things really matter.”
Although Dickerson agreed that the mental obstacle is a factor in returning from a long-term injury, he said that fear is the wrong way to pursue the process of a comeback: “The worst thing to think about is if I do something on this knee and twist it or whatever . . . That’s the last thing I’m thinking about at practice. I think more about my toes getting stepped on or getting a cramp.”
There are a few factors in the recovery process over which players have no control— and one of those is the surgery itself. For Dickerson, he had all the trust in the world in Florida State’s doctors: “At a major Division-1 program, we’re going to have great doctors that will repair my knee as good as anybody.”
Trust plays a big role in an athlete’s process of suffering a long-term injury and getting back on the field. Trusting your doctors, trusting your coaches, and trusting your training staff. James says working with the FSU trainers and coaches helped him return to full strength: “I fell like I put in all the work with my trainers and my strength coach getting where I needed to be.”
Despite not being on the playing field itself during the season, James said that his time on the sidelines and in the film room only improved his leadership and teaching qualities, attributes that are just some of the reasons he’s one of college football’s best players. “Even though I wasn’t out there physically, I had to be more of a vocal leader. I had to be that guy my teammates needed me to be.”
After going through the months of rehabilitation, both James and Dickerson are healthy and have been participants in every Florida State fall camp practice thus far. They are on track to start FSU’s 2017 season opening game on September 2nd vs. Alabama.
After completing that journey from injury to recovery, athletes learn a lot more about their bodies, and become much more educated about the process as well.
James detailed what he would tell another athlete in a similar situation: “Not to get discouraged, not to beat yourself up, not to get too hard on yourself. Really just listen to what the trainers telling you, and take advantage of each moment, take advantage of rehab . . . Take it seriously, get stronger and stronger.”
Dickerson also had some advice to give: “My advice would be is you have to take it day-by-day. You also have to keep it in the back of your mind that it’s going to be a long road, but my thing was I came in every day with the attitude that I was going to get better and help myself get better.”
The road to recovery from a long-term injury isn’t an easy one by any means, but with hard work, both mentally and physically, it’s just another hurdle to overcome in the career of a football player.