Northwestern ESPNU Top 150 recruit Christian Jones' knowledge of ACL tears was limited when he suffered his own tear during spring practice last year at Westfield High School in Houston.
He believed it was nearly impossible to recover from an ACL injury. As a result, his reaction was to jump to the worst possible conclusion.
“I thought I wasn’t going to play football again,” said the 6-foot-3, 200-pound Jones, who is ranked No. 108 in the Class of 2011. “I was actually thinking that first. I had heard ACL injuries ruin careers.”
Jones sighed in relief when his doctor corrected him. Most ACL injuries require months of intense rehab, but they aren’t necessarily career-ending.
That was all Jones needed to hear. If returning to elite wide receiver form required a lot of time and effort, then he would give a lot of time and effort.
“When the doctors told me I could be back in five months, that was all the motivation I needed to know that I could do it,” said Jones, who also benefited from a clean tear. “The first part is the hardest part, but if you start strong, you finish strong. That’s how I saw it.”
If dealing with the injury and the climb ahead wasn’t enough, Jones also had to worry about his college recruitment. Before the injury, he was a hot commodity. He had 35 receptions for 702 yards and 11 touchdowns as a junior. Arkansas, Baylor, Iowa State, Kansas, Stanford and Texas Tech were among the schools after him.
After the injury, few remained by his side.
“[The injury] put a lot of pressure on the schools recruiting me,” Jones said. “It was one thing to realize whether they would stay with me or not because of the injury. They went over the stats and facts about it whether I was good enough to stick with me. Stanford and a bunch of others schools caused me to re-evaluate who was really there for me.”
Northwestern and Rice stuck it out, and Jones chose the Wildcats in July.
“They still thought, ‘You’re a great player,’” Jones said. “[Northwestern] coach [Pat] Fitzgerald blew my mind when I was on campus. I wished I had gone there earlier, and I would have committed sooner. It was the way he committed to a player, a player not even on his team yet. It gave me a good feeling about the school, really good.”
With Jones’ commitment out of the way, he focused on his rehab and his goal of playing during his senior season. He returned against Klein Oak on Oct. 16, only five months since his injury.
“You don’t come back from that and do everything he had to do without being a high-character, high-disciplined person,” Westfield coach Corby Meekins said. “He set a goal and reached it. It’s pretty incredible. He’s very determined, has great character and is very disciplined. He’s a leader. He’s going to bring more to the locker room than just making plays on the field. I expect him to be a Northwestern captain before it’s done.”
Jones didn’t catch a pass in his first two games back. He broke through with a 40-yard, leaping grab in his third game. As if he releasing everything he had felt over the previous six months, Jones spiked the ball as hard could into the ground.
“It was very emotional,” Jones said. “I got really wound up after I caught it. A ref called a penalty on me. My coach didn’t get mad at me. It was all good.”
It’s a play Meekins will never forget.
“If he has to have a catch to come back on, that was a huge play,” Meekins said. “Everybody was fired up. It was neat. To all his teammates, it was a neat moment.”
Jones finished the game with three catches for 65 yards and a touchdown. A week later in the season finale, he caught three passes – including two touchdowns -- for 57 yards.
After his rehab is complete, Jones is confident that he will be better than he was before the injury.
“I came back so early, so I probably wasn’t fully healed,” Jones said. “I wasn’t my normal self, but I was still playing at a high level. I haven’t a doubt that I’ll return to my former self. I’ve been working hard and working hard with my rehab regimen. I think I’ll return to my former self and will be better.”
2011 PLAYER COMMITS
Here's a list of the players committed to Pat Fitzgerald and Northwestern University.