Grace opens up about the long road back

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When Jarrett Grace broke his leg in four places, the linebacker’s career nearly ended. Eighteen months later, Grace is back on the field, and back a part of the master plans for the Irish defense.

The one-time heir apparent to Manti Te’o met with the local media on Friday. And he spoke candidly about the long road back to the field, and a rehabilitation that required a new rod reinserted into his surgically repaired leg, and some tough, tough moments before the breakthrough.

Eric Hansen of the South Bend Tribune has a great feature on Grace, who talked candidly about life after the initial surgery.

“When you see the X-rays, it’s, ‘Oh that thing’s shattered.’ I had to get a rod in there. And they’re telling me about this surgery, and they’re hammering that thing in,” Grace recalls. “The doctor is telling me, ‘You can try to walk on it.’

“And I tried to a couple of days after the surgery. And I’m like, ‘Holy Cow, this doesn’t feel as good as you say it should.’ Blood’s like coming out of my stitches. I’m trying to shower. I’m yelling to my mom. So she’s bathing me in my bed, actually. I couldn’t do anything for myself.”

Here’s Grace on some of the dark moments before an additional surgery last spring replaced the rod in his leg and put his rehab back on schedule.

“I didn’t always believe in myself,” Grace said of the early stages of recovery when the prognosis didn’t match the progress he was supposed to be making. “I guess there was doubt, because when you look at it, it looked terrible. And you feel terrible.

“So that can compound itself, and then you’re getting depressed, because you’re not doing the thing you love, which really drives you, which you’re passionate about.

“So I went through some times when I wasn’t myself. I didn’t feel very good. I wasn’t sure what was going to turn out of this. Sometimes (all) I wanted was to be able to walk again, just for my future health and for the sake of when I have children someday.”

But that’s all changed this spring. When head coach Brian Kelly said Grace was a full-contact go for spring practice, more than a few eyebrows were raised. Yet Grace has answered the bell, even ringing his own in full-contact drills that kept him out of a practice before returning to the Irish defense last week.

Grace has been a standout in spring practice, the mental reps he took during 2014 preparing him for the on-field opportunities he’s had this spring. And with Jaylon Smith cross-training as an outside linebacker, the Irish are getting prepared to utilize Grace, Joe Schmidt and Nyles Morgan as inside linebackers, three very good players for two positions. Once a long-shot hope to play, Grace is now part of the blueprints.

The journey back isn’t complete. Not until Grace takes the field against Texas to open next season. But for the first time since he was the Irish’s leading tackler at the end of October in 2013, Grace is in the middle of the Irish defense.

And that’s quite a story.