Jadeveon Clowney knew it was going to be a long, arduous road to recovery.
So did head coach Bill O'Brien.
Maybe that's why just one day before Clowney underwent microfracture knee surgery last December, O'Brien had a talk with him. O'Brien, always straightforward, laid it on the line for the 2014 No. 1 overall draft pick.
"He was like, 'We're going to have to grind this out. You've got to just put your head down and plow forward. You're going to have a long rehab, long surgery,'" Clowney said. "I was like, 'I'm ready to do it.' And we came out, we put a plan together and we followed it up with the plan and it's working out for me."
At 6-5, 266 pounds, there wasn't much he couldn't do on the football field when healthy. The two-time All-SEC player was often referred to as "a freak of nature" with his size, speed, and explosiveness. Would he be able to regain that after such a major surgery? Only time would tell, but Clowney made a promise to himself.
"After everybody was telling me about the surgery, on how hard it was going to be and a lot of guys don't do this after the surgery, don't do that, I was like, 'I'm going to try to beat the odds,'" Clowney said Monday. "I've always been that way my whole life, so I was going to work hard and just try to push for a good time to come back and I'm feeling great."
Clowney's rookie season had come to a disappointing end. His December 2014 surgery was only the beginning. Despite his positive attitude, Clowney admits that rehabbing his knee was the toughest thing he'd ever gone through. There were days he didn't feel finishing his rehab, days he didn't feel like even going to rehab, but did so anyway with the support of his family, his mother Josenna, his teammates, and the Texans training staff.
"So they got me out of the house, and I just got up here, and once I was done I was like, 'Man, I'm glad I did it today,'" Clowney said. "Got the work in and it helped me, (Coordinator of Rehabilitation/Assistant Athletic Trainer) Roland (Ramirez) and them stayed on me the whole time through my rehab. He never let me quit."
Then there was a turning point.
This summer, Clowney began to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
"Before OTAs, I was a little worried, there was a little swelling here and there, but after OTAs it started coming around, it started feeling great," Clowney said. "And I was just like, Roland, let's push for a good date to come back, and he's like, put down the 17th."
So they quietly penciled the date on the calendar. Clowney was happy to have a target date, though he wouldn't rush back if he didn't feel ready.
In the end, he was.
Clowney returned to the practice field Monday, though limited in his participation. He took part in walkthroughs, individual drills, and dynamic stretching and will work his way up to team drills. For now, Clowney is just happy to be where he is right now.
"More than I've worked in my whole life probably but it was worth it," Clowney said, smiling. "Just to be back out here. It was all worth it, man."
Jadeveon Clowney signed a deal with the Texans on Friday. Check out these photos from the Draft, OTAs and more.