Rarely do the words "torn ACL" and "lucky" appear in the same sentence. Newly-minted California athlete commit Devante Downs, though, considers himself quite fortunate. The ACL tear he suffered at Oregon State's team camp could have been much worse, especially considering he was jumping off of that same knee for two and a half weeks after suffering the injury.
"It didn't hurt that badly," says Downs, a three-star prospect, ranked as the No. 1 fullback in the 2014 class. "I thought it was normal, that's why I was surprised when they told me that I tore my ACL."
Initially, the injury didn't feel as catastrophic as it proved to be.
"I was running the ball 20 yards down the field, and I should have just run over the guy, but I tried to stiff arm him, but he was already falling back, so there was nothing there to catch my stiff arm, and I was also trying to cut back inside at the same time, so I hyperextended my knee and twisted it," Downs says. "It didn't hurt that badly. I thought it was normal, that's why I was surprised when they told me that I tore my ACL."
For two and a half weeks, Downs was running, walking and jumping off docks and into a lake and felt no significant pain. There was no swelling, no restriction of his range of movement -- nothing. When the knee still didn't feel quite right, though, he paid a visit to the doctor.
"I gave it a little while, and it was getting better. It wasn't swollen at all. It didn't really swell at all, and I could bend it and walk. I was going off the docks at the lake. It didn't feel 100 percent, but it felt pretty good," he says. "Then, I went to the doctor just to make sure, and that's when they told me.
"It didn't feel the same as the other knee, but it still felt good. I didn't want to take any chances, because I didn't want to mess it up more than it already was. It could have become something really serious, and I just didn't want to take any chances, so that's when I went to the doctor."
Hence, Downs considers himself quite lucky, indeed.
"With my knee, I got really lucky," he says. "Normally, when you tear an ACL, you tear the PCL or some random stuff, and I got really lucky that I only tore my ACL, and that there was no other damage. That's why I've had such a quick recovery so far, already walking and doing squats and stuff."
As soon as Downs found out the prognosis – with the up to eight-month recovery time – he knew that playing his senior season was out of the question.
"It was pretty hard, but I got over it, because there's no use crying about it, said the 6-foot-3, 215-pound two-way star for Mountlake Terrace (Wash.). "I had surgery two weeks ago, and I'm already walking, doing [physical therapy] and doing squats and just getting better."
While he was convalescing, one of the first schools he got into contact with was Cal.
"They were one of the first schools that I called and told when I got injured, and they were positive, right away," says Downs, who has spoken regularly with Pierre Ingram and head coach Sonny Dykes. "I've been talking to coach Dykes and coach Ingram a lot. As people, they're really cool. As coaches, they know what they're doing, with how they ran that offense at Louisiana Tech last year."
While some schools dropped off the radar after Downs' injury, the programs he was most interested in stayed strong, including the Bears.
A side benefit of Downs' commitment to Cal is the fact that he wants to graduate early, and after seeing the facilities during a trip out to Berkeley in May, he knows exactly what the Bears' medical staff has at its disposal to help him recover.
"I have a 3.6 [GPA], and I'm going to be taking college classes again this quarter, so I can graduate early and be there by January," says Downs. "I've always had this plan as far back as eighth grade. I might not have graduated early if I would have gone somewhere else, but since I knew I was going to Cal, I've already been planning to graduate early."