Gophers doctors have their rehab schedule, and Marcus Jones has his. How different are they? Picture a footrace pitting the teenage receiver against his orthopedic surgeons.
Yes, surgical textbooks and medical advice say Jones should be nearing the halfway point of a marathon. Jones believes he has already crossed the finish line of a 100-yard dash.
"To me, I'm healthy again. I mean, I'm listening [to his doctors], I'm being careful," the sophomore-to-be said. "But my knee feels great."
Actually, it didn't exactly feel bad last Oct. 26, when he caught a kickoff and headed upfield during Gophers practice. He cut to avoid a tackle, took an awkward step and was hit by a teammate. "It wasn't like it hurt -- I felt something in my knee click. I just walked of the field, and the trainer played with a little bit and told me I was done for the day. Then later, Doc [Pat] Smith told me I tore [an ACL]."
Ricky Rubio can relate. Adrian Peterson, too. So can fellow Gopher Trevor Mbakwe, and hundreds of other pro and college athletes every year. They tear a knee ligament, have it surgically stitched up, and then put in six months, nine months, sometimes a year, working to make it sound again.
Or in Jones' case, a little more than four months.
"That is a truly amazing story," marveled Gophers coach Jerry Kill, who watched Jones catch passes in early March to prove himself healthy enough to take part in spring practice, albeit without any tackling. "It's beyond medical science, that one. It's an unbelievable comeback -- he looks as fast as he ever was."
The Gophers sure hope so. Jones caught his first pass for Minnesota last fall when he was only 17, and he had nine catches for 142 yards before he was injured. Only 10 days earlier, the freshman became the first Gopher in four years to return a kickoff for a touchdown.
But none of those feats may compare to what he accomplished Nov. 8 -- just 48 hours after his surgery. In considerable pain from the staples and sutures used to hold the ligaments together, Jones insisted that he get out of bed, and even climbed on an exercise bike. His rehab had begun.
"I couldn't even straighten my leg out, my knee wouldn't let me. But I got on the bike, and they told me, try to do a revolution" on the pedals, he said. "I couldn't at first. Just trying to bend my knee and bring it back was really hard, because the nerves are trying to rebuild themselves. When I finally did it, I realized it was just in my mind. If I pushed myself, I could do it."
Jones accelerated his rehab as much as doctors would allow -- and even some they wouldn't. When he went home to North Carolina at Christmas, "I was jogging. They didn't know it, but I was jogging," Jones said. "When I came back and told them, they let me start to jog a little bit."
And by March, after weeks of lifting weights and doing pushups while his teammates held informal practices, he was cleared to catch footballs with quarterback MarQueis Gray -- his favorite rehab milestone.
"I was so happy, I felt like we'd won the Big Ten championship," he said.
Jones is trying to stay patient, he's sworn to doctors that he won't be reckless, and he's resigned to merely catching passes with no contact this spring. But his speed is completely back, his strength is nearly there, and he fully intends to line up in the slot again this fall.
"I've got something to prove now," Jones said. "When I'm on the field, I don't remember I'm hurt. If people hit me, I don't even care. I just get up and keep running."