In the NFL, a career can end in an instant. In a game filled with injuries, promising careers can be dashed when a bone, muscle or ligament is damaged.
Virginia Tech safety Antone Exum was coming off consecutive All-ACC seasons as a versatile defensive back that had experience at safety, cornerback and VT's Rover position. He was climbing the charts quickly and, if he continued his upward trend, he was likely going to be viewed among the top D-back prospects in the draft.
Then it all came crashing down.
In January 2013, Exum was playing a pickup basketball game with teammates and friends. He drove to the basket and attempted to avoid contact. He landed flat-footed and heard a snap in his right knee. Unable to get up and clutching his knee, he saw his football life flash before his eyes as the immediate panic began to set in.
"The first thing that went through my mind was, why was I out here?" Exum said. "It was the same reason everybody else was out there. It was just a recreational game of basketball and it was just an unfortunate event. I came down on it wrong and suffered the injury. I just see it as an adversity that made me stronger in the long run."
The injury couldn't have been much worse – a torn ACL, torn medial and lateral meniscus and a micro-fracture.
He made a speedy recovery, returning to the field in late October, but, in his third game back, he suffered a high ankle sprain that ended his nightmarish senior season and resulted in his draft stock taking a serious hit.
But he has declared himself healthy and ready to start showing the Vikings what he can do. If versatility counts for anything in a Mike Zimmer defense, they don't come much more versatile than Exum.
"My freshman year, I played free safety and nickel," Exum said. "My sophomore year, I played free safety and strong safety. My junior year I played corner and my senior year I played corner."
With the speed to play cornerback at a high level in college (All-ACC in 2012) and the size to play safety (All-ACC in 2011), he brings a lot to the table from the physical standpoint, which clearly has been the direction of the defensive changes made by head coach Zimmer since taking over the process of revamping the Vikings defense.
Exum hopes that his strengths as a college defensive back and his versatility will translate to the NFL and put him in the running not just to make the roster, but to compete for a starting job.
"I feel my strengths are my speed, my size, ball skills, physicality and point-of-attack tackling," Exum said. "I feel like I have unique covering ability and making the big play at the big moment. I did a lot of that in college and something I hope will carry on at the professional level."
While the Vikings will likely focus on his skills as a safety and a special teams player to start, Exum said he's willing to take his jack-of-all-trades résumé to help the Vikings wherever help is needed this season.
"I think they see me as kind of a hybrid-type guy," Exum said. "I'm just ready to get on the field and contribute in any way I can. Whatever they want me to do. It's primarily going to be safety, I believe. If that's what they need me to step in to do, that's what I'll do. I'm just trying to get on the field and help us win games."
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Exum recounts devastating injury, skill set
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