Just 166 days after tearing his ACL in the spring, Amari Rodgers returned to action Saturday in top-ranked Clemson’s win over then-No. 12 Texas A&M at Death Valley.
During fall camp, head coach Dabo Swinney said there was “zero” chance Rodgers would be ready to play against A&M. However, the junior wide receiver was motivated to get back on the field for the Week 2 clash with the Aggies and made it happen thanks in large part to his work ethic.
“I remember telling my mom and my dad right after surgery, I was like, ‘I’ve got to be back for the A&M game. That’s my goal, I’ve got to be back that game,’” Rodgers told the media Monday. “I knew it would probably be one of the biggest games of the season, so I wanted to be back and able help my team in that game. So, that’s really what was in the back of my mind throughout the whole process, that I wanted to be back as early as possible.”
In mid-August, Swinney and the Tigers didn’t think Rodgers would be able to return until late September at the earliest. Instead, he played 34 snaps in Saturday’s game and caught a couple of passes less than six months after undergoing surgery to repair the ACL.
Rodgers was determined to prove he could get back sooner than expected, and that’s exactly what he did.
“I don’t think a lot of people understand my mindset,” Rodgers said. “I feel like I have a different mindset than a lot of people out there, that I won’t let anybody outwork me. So, I put in the extra work every single day to get back, and that’s what I did all through the summer. I did treatment and rehab twice a day, and that’s not normal, but I pushed through and I just wanted to get back earlier than people said that I would be back. So, I just wanted to do anything that I could in order to be back, and it paid off.”
Rodgers got back to full speed during practice prior to the Georgia Tech game on Aug. 29, then participated in Clemson’s padded practices last Tuesday and Wednesday ahead of the A&M game.
His knee felt fine on Thursday, so he sent a text message to Swinney that night letting him know he was good to go for Saturday.
“I just said, ‘Coach, I promise you I’m ready. You can trust me and I’m going to go out there and give it my all for the team,’” Rodgers said. “He trusted me, and I told him ‘thank you for believing in me’ after the game. So, it was awesome that he did that.”
Rodgers, who will wear a brace to protect his knee the rest of the season, feels good but is still working to condition himself back into peak physical shape.
“After practice (on Tuesday), I laid on the floor for like five minutes,” he said. “It felt like it was my first practice ever. But it’s part of it, and I felt like the Tuesday practice really got me ready for the game on Saturday because I feel like if I didn’t practice Tuesday then I definitely wouldn’t have been ready. But that’s part of the getting back in shape process, and this week is going to help also, just getting back in game-ready shape.”
Rodgers credited a number of people for encouraging him during the rehab process, including former Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson, who tore his ACL at Georgia Tech in 2014.
“I did talk to him once,” Rodgers said. “He sent me a text message to say it’s going to be all right, that I’m going to come back stronger and better than before. So, that really stuck with me throughout the process because I knew he had to, and you see where he’s at now. So, that really motivated me.”
Swinney also helped keep Rodgers’ spirits up, pointing out the fact that former Clemson quarterback Chad Kelly and former tight end Sam Cooper tore their ACLs in the 2013 spring game but were back and ready before the Tigers kicked off the season against Georgia.
“Keeping that positive mindset will take you so far in football and in life, so that’s one thing that I had to do,” Rodgers said. “When it happened, it sucked. It was in the spring, and Coach Swinney did a good job of keeping me motivated. He said Chad Kelly came back in four months, and there was a tight end that did the same thing.
“So, he told me that right after it happened, and that immediately brought me up because I thought it was going to be eight months or something like that. When I heard that, I was like, if they can do it, I can definitely do it with the work ethic that I have. So, I definitely just kept that positive mindset.”
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