In the months since his senior football season concluded, North Carolina signee Johnathan Sutton’s focus has been rehab.
Unbeknownst to him, Sutton had played the entire football season, plus South Carolina’s North-South Bowl and Semper Fidelis All-American Bowl, with a partially torn meniscus. The 5-foot-11, 235-pound linebacker from Swansea (S.C.) believes the tear occurred six games into the season.
“I really didn’t know what it was,” Sutton said. “I just played through it. It didn’t feel like [my previous knee injury].”
Sutton injured the same knee nearly a year earlier. That injury – a torn ACL, MCL, and meniscus – was much more severe, wiping out all but the first three games of his junior season.
It’s unknown if the second injury was related to the first.
Sutton’s most recent knee injury was discovered in January when he returned home from playing in the Semper Fidelis All-American Bowl.
“At first it felt like a pinched meniscus,” Sutton said. “But then it felt like scar tissue. I just played through it, but it did lock up a couple times. I just felt like I should go get it checked out before I went to school [at UNC].”
Sutton immediately had a meniscectomy – a surgical removal of all or part of a torn meniscus – and then went to work on strengthening the knee. He’s been finished with rehab for nearly two months and is now 100-percent.
“I’m feeling good now,” Sutton said. “I’m fine. I’m just trying to stay in shape.”
The knee injury delayed Sutton’s start with the workout packet that UNC’s strength and conditioning staff assembled for him. He has since caught up and added approximately seven pounds since the football season.
Sutton, who says the paperwork related to the NCAA Clearinghouse and UNC admissions have been completed, will arrive on campus permanently on June 16.
“I have mixed feelings, really,” Sutton said. “I’m excited, but at the same time nervous.”
Easing Sutton’s transition will be his suitemates, in particular Carl Tucker. Sutton and Tucker were roommates during the Semper Fidelis All-American Bowl and will share a suite – along with Corey Bell and Jason Strowbridge – this summer.
When Sutton committed to UNC last June, Ron West not only handled Sutton’s recruitment but he was expected to be his position coach.
“I put all my trust in Coach West and he was let go,” Sutton said. “I know it’s a business, too, so I have to go along with it.”
With that said, Sutton has spent the offseason getting to know West’s replacement, John Papuchis.
“We’ve been making up for lost time,” Sutton said. “He’s pretty much the only one I talk to and we talk once every week. He’s very energetic.”
To expedite the process, Sutton attended UNC’s spring scrimmage in Charlotte to observe Papuchis as a coach. The trip also provided Sutton a chance to see the newly installed 4-3 defensive scheme. It’s a scheme very familiar to Sutton – he played in that defense during his high school career.
According to Sutton, Papuchis plans to utilize Sutton at both Mike and Will linebacker. Furthermore, he’ll be provided every opportunity to earn a spot within the linebacker rotation.
Sutton is unsure what jersey number he’ll wear for UNC. He has worn No. 20 since he was eight years old, but that is taken by another linebacker, Tyrell Tomlin.
“It was my identity really,” Sutton said. “I guess I’m going to have to start a new [identity].”
Signee Update: Johnathan Sutton
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