Jonathan Cornell didn't think much about the shoulder stingers he was experiencing after contact drills in August practice last year.
But after a particularly hard hit directly on the shoulder against Missouri early last season, he felt a sharp pain at the base of his neck and running down his arm. Nerve damage was the final diagnosis.
Unbeknownst to him, his season was over.
Flash forward to spring training 2008 after months of rigorous rehab.
It was not determined until the start of spring how much, if any, contact Cornell would be allowed to participate in, but the trainers cleared him on a conditional basis. Try a little contact and see how the shoulder responds, they advised.
Cornell takes it from there. . .
"I had no residual pain in spring after hits and that was very encouraging," said Cornell. "I'd get a sting here and there, but it would be gone by the next play."
Jonathan started spring at outside linebacker but was quickly moved inside to middle LB. He held the top spot there the whole spring and will be number one when August practice opens.
"I like middle linebacker. It's my natural position. I see things a lot better from the middle and feel I can do the best job for the team there," Cornell stated.
Cornell, a sophomore, battled with seniors Tony Fein, who finished last season on a high note, and Chris Bowers, a converted DE who has had an injury-proned career, for the MLB slot.
"I think consistency put me a little ahead in spring. I'm not saying they didn't learn the system, but I got into it pretty deep and I think I was probably just a little more consistent," he said. "They worked hard too and did a good job. They are fine LBs, but in spring I think I was in the right place at the right time more often. In August, however, the competition will pick right back up and we'll all have to prove ourselves every day again."
Cornell is optimistic about the prospects of the Rebel defense, even though most observers seem more excited about the offense's chances to excel.
"Coach (Tyrone) Nix will get you going. Schematically, there aren't a lot of major differences in what we will do from what we did last year, but our aggression level is through the roof. We are playing more freely without thinking too much," Cornell explained. "We can make a mistake and not get ripped to pieces or lose our spot.
"I think we are happier, we are enjoying the game more and we are playing more instinctive football."
Within the defense, the defensive line has gotten a fair share of ink, but the LBs seem to be a bit overlooked.
"I feel pretty good about the LBs. We have some chemistry going there. I was talking to Coach Nix the other day and I told him I thought we were coming together in regard to being a tight LB unit," he continued. "If one of us makes a mistake, the other one is smart enough and fast enough to make up for it.
"We're pretty close. A.P (Ashlee Palmer) and I are both California guys so we have that bond. And Allen (Walker) and I came in together, so we are fine and understand each other."
Jonathan is also confident in the backups at all the LB slots.
"If I went down, Tony played well last year and Chris is very capable. If an OLB went down, we have some good guys there and I could even move outside if I had to," said Cornell. "I feel the parts are interchangeable and we are going to be fine."
Of the newcomers at LB, Cornell is already impressed with Jason Jones.
"He's about 6-2, 225, runs well and he's always in his playbook and asking me questions, which is a good sign. I think he's someone to look out for in the future," he added.
From a team standpoint, Cornell said the biggest key is for them to learn how to win.
"We have never lost our confidence really - I'm sure you have talked to our wideouts," he laughed. "Our deal is learning how to win and close out a game. We have a process to go through.
"We have to be more consistent and accountable and we have to learn to really turn it on in the fourth quarter. We just have to bring it all together and just do it," said Cornell, who is now at 230 pounds.
He said he might try to get to 235 pounds because he's running well at 230.
"I'm running the same now as I was when I weighed 205, so I might try another five pounds and see how I hold that," he noted.
"Everything" seems to be on the upswing for Jonathan.
Cornell said he's even learned to love this area of the country and he was very skeptical at first.
"People are nicer here. I like the slower pace now. The South is growing on me. The hospitality here is alive and well," he closed. "The heat is all I really had a hard time with. The first two-a-days I didn't know if I was going to make it or not, but I have even adjusted to that now."
A different kind of heat is about to pop up on the horizon. The heat of SEC football.
After a long wait, Jonathan Cornell says he's ready for the next stretch of the road.
Jonathan Cornell update -
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