Jimmy Gjere wishes he knew how it happened, wonders whether there was a specific play or a certain blow that caused all this. But there is no obvious evidence of how it happened. All he can remember is standing in the huddle in Michigan Stadium last October, hearing quarterback Max Shortell call a play, and then wandering back to the line of scrimmage with no idea what to do next.
"I couldn't remember the plays," Gjere said last week.
His teammates, unaware anything was wrong, tried to correct the offensive lineman when he didn't follow instructions and tried to encourage him to make his block. But for at least a couple of plays, Gjere was just faking his way along while trying to get his bearings. "Things were a little hazy," he said.
Nearly 10 months later, things are a lot clearer now -- including the Irondale High grad's future. It definitely includes Gophers football, and probably soon. That's something he wasn't certain of in the immediate aftermath of the concussion he suffered in Michigan.
"When it's bothering you, you just don't know what's going to happen," Gjere said about his football career. "You've got to just take it slow, get through one day at a time. Get lots of sleep, get lots of rest and wait it out."
He waited seven more games last year, a disappointing end to a season in which he earned the starting job at right tackle despite being a redshirt freshman. He waited through spring practices, even though he felt better. And he waited all summer, though with team doctors' clearance, he resumed workouts and became one of the Gophers' strongest players.
He feels great now, Gjere said. And he doesn't like thinking too much about what last October and November was like.
"It was just miserable. Your whole body is messed up. Everything is screwed up," said the 20-year-old New Brighton native. "You're in a haze. I'd get dizzy just standing there. It's hard to function."
That condition lasted for nearly four months, he said, and would manifest itself at any moment. It seems like nothing can stop a 6-7, 325-pound man, but a brain injury, however it happened, certainly did.
"If I closed my eyes, it felt like I was spinning," he said. "If I was moving and I stopped, it felt like I was still moving, like things hadn't stopped. I'd look to the side and things were kind of swaying."
But the symptoms began to subside last January, and didn't return even when he attacked winter workouts with gusto. Gjere is able to practice with his teammates again, though the Gophers are still taking it slow. He's working with some of the newer players while he gets his technique back, and he didn't take part in Friday's scrimmage.
"I'm always on the cautious side," coach Jerry Kill said. "I'm the one who said, 'Hey, we're going to go through the processes, talk to the family, talk to the kid, and make sure he feels comfortable with what he's doing.' I care about the kid too much not to do it that way."
Coincidentally, Gjere's spot on the right side of the line is currently being manned by another concussion victim, redshirt freshman Josh Campion, who suffered the injury last August and didn't feel symptom-free until December. "Their situations are completely different," Kill said, though both are tested regularly to make certain there are no lingering problems.
Gjere's biggest problem this summer, he said, was waiting for the calendar to turn to football season again.
"I've been ready to get back out there for a while. It feels good to be back, that's for sure," he said. "Hopefully this is behind me for good."