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One Step At A Time

April 6, 2010

by Matt Winkeljohn, Managing Editor

Red may work for some vacationers, but it’s not a good look for Kyle Jackson as he spends time on the beach.

He’s a green-all-the-time guy, a linebacker, and he’s supposed to be hitting people this time of year during spring practice. Riding an exercise bicycle, or lifting weights, or doing sit-ups in what amounts to a quarantined area beyond the southeast corner of Georgia Tech’s practice field – “The beach” – was never in his plans. This break in the action is unwanted.

That red jersey he wears burns. It means he’s not involved in contact. Wear one of those and it’s like you can see the picture you’re supposed to be in, but damned if somebody else isn’t running around in your spot on the canvas. Tech’s beach might as well be a tar pit.

Jackson wants to be out on the practice field getting a leg up on next season, but about a year ago his foot began to come apart. As George P. Burdell might say: Hard to get a leg up with a blowed-up foot.

Hester Prynne wore her Scarlet letter with shame. Injured players at Tech wear scarlet with no shame, yet some suffer a sense of isolation akin to the central character in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s epic novel.

Jackson came to Tech not only as part of the much-heralded recruiting class of 2007, but brought the nickname, “The ambassador,” because he worked so hard to help Tech coaches recruit his eventual teammates. Then, after redshirting, he started 10 games as a freshman in 2008, nine of them in the middle where he was tasked with relaying signals from the sideline to his fellow defenders.

The young man is accustomed to being in the middle of everything. Now, he’s on the outside and not in a linebacker spot.

“I don’t even think frustrating is a sufficient word,” Jackson said. “It’s taught me a lot of life lessons. It’s one of those things you keep pushing yourself to understand. It’s not something I did. It just shows that on any given play, anybody could be out a year, a week, a career.”

This time a year ago Jackson was rolling, and then couldn’t save himself from himself.

He injured the foot in spring practice, and had a pretty good idea it was severe. Yet he kept plugging away, the warrior mentality that makes some players stand out perhaps coming to work against him.

“I felt awful. It was probably the worst thing I ever felt,” he said. “But we were about a week out from the spring game, we were low on numbers at linebacker at the time, and being one of the older guys, I kept trying to push through.”

After about a dozen snaps in that spring game, “at about 50 percent,” Jackson took himself out. He didn’t just have a flat tire. He was throwing rubber.

It’s impossible to know now how severely he initially injured the Lisfranc joint/ligament in the mid-foot. That injury is often difficult to diagnose and treat. By pushing, Jackson may have made the damage worse.

The Lisfranc joint is where metatarsals (the long bones that lead to toes) and the tarsal bones (in the arch) connect. The Lisfranc ligament is tissue that joins two of these bones.

That ligament is tiny.

When former Tech linebacker Keith Brooking wrenched one of his pedals on the concrete-like turf of old Veterans Stadium in a 2000 game while playing for the Falcons against the Eagles, it took months and numerous doctors to diagnose that he tore the Lisfranc. A physician with the 49ers made the call, figuring that Brooking couldn’t heal his sprained foot because it was no longer held together properly.

Perhaps compounding matters for Jackson as he was in and out of a walking boot, the bones in his foot shifted and spread under his body weight. His foot was or spreading from the middle out.

“We finally figured out exactly what it was at the end of August,” Jackson said. “We had been through so many tests. We knew it was Lisfranc, but not the degree. When we when went in for surgery it was a lot worse than [the doctor] thought. A 45-minute surgery became two hours and 15 minutes there was so much going on in there.

“I also damaged the second and third metatarsal to the point where I had a fusion [surgery]. The second was dislocated, and it pushed the other joints to where they weren’t natural state, and there was so much arthritis.”

Translation: one metatarsal became dislocated, and when out of position rubbed against another and ground down bone – arthritis.

The severity of Jackson’s injury is more commonly associated with sudden and tremendous impact, like when a person jams his or her feet hard into the floorboard in an automobile accident.

If that happens to you, plan on surgery and be happy to one day walk without a limp.

Jackson wants to play football again. “I’m getting back in shape,” he said. “Basically, I’m doing our summer workout. I’m still getting back to where I can cut and play Division I linebacker. I won’t be in contact this spring. We don’t know if my foot can sustain taking on a lineman and change directions at the same time. I’ll be in (August) camp 100 percent ready to go.”

That will be quite an accomplishment if it happens. Remember, some of the bones in Jackson’s foot were damaged to where a doctor fused — or welded them — together.

There’s a bit of Frankenstein going on here, but not in the re-assembly of Jackson’s foot. He’s adjusting to a very clunky shoe.

“Thankfully, that was the perfect joint to damage if I was going to have a fusion and keep playing football,” he said. “I had gotten used to running in my tennis shoes. Monday and Wednesday [last week] were awful. I was out here limping trying to get used to these cleats. [Monday this week], I had a pretty good workout. I feel like just from last week I’m 60 percent better.

“I have [shoe] inserts, an orthotic under the arch, and my foot is nowhere near the shape it was before. The orthotic is way under the arch, and it’s a re-constructed arch. It’s a new foot you could say, but I’m working through it. I’m not worried… just want to get back on the field.”

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