A defender’s helmet slammed into running back Zamir White’s knee during a high school football game last year.
He walked off the field and didn’t think there was a major injury. Later, he learned he had torn his ACL
Before he entered the initial stages of grief after the trauma, the Georgia recruit had a sense of denial and determination. He wanted to get back on the football field — and soon.
“I truly believe that if he didn’t go on a visit to Georgia, he would’ve tried to play for us the next week,” said head coach Richard Bailey, who led White’s team at Scotland County High School in North Carolina.
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The early days of White’s college career were in doubt, and being sidelined for a few games at Georgia became a legitimate possibility.
White had surgery in early December in Athens. From that moment, White didn’t let things deter him and began intense rehabilitation.
He had Georgia running backs of past (Todd Gurley, Nick Chubb and Sony Michel) who had all dealt with significant injuries during their careers reach out. White then used those words of motivation and an “unbelievable work ethic,” according to Bailey, to boost his recovery.
“I’ve never coached a kid who was self-motivated to be great,” Bailey said in a phone interview with The Telegraph. “I had to rein him back at times, so he didn’t overwork himself. The same thing is happening at Georgia, and I’ve heard he’s done this rehab like his life depended on it.”
Ron Courson, Georgia’s director of sports medicine, paired White with junior tight end Charlie Woerner in rehab efforts. Woerner broke his leg during the 2018 Rose Bowl and is a full participant in practice.
“He’s recovered really well and has come a long way since we started,” Woerner said. “Whether it be agility work or strengthening, we would always be paired together, and it was fun to work with him.”
About eight months after undergoing the procedure, White’s injury is seemingly unnoticeable as he works at the Woodruff Practice Fields. Georgia head coach Kirby Smart said on Aug. 3 that White was “fully cleared” for contact and a full workload.
Bailey recalled an ACL tear being a “death sentence” in the past, but recovery times progress along with the evolution of sports’ medicine. In the NFL, Houston Texans’ quarterback Deshaun Watson and running back Adrian Peterson experienced a similar recovery time.
The regimen for White involves wrestling and karate sessions. It echoes that of Chubb, who underwent extensive recovery after a PCL tear in the 2015 season.
“I’d say he’s either on schedule or a little ahead of schedule,” Smart said. “It’s not a miracle, but he is pretty special with buying into the rehab. … He’s not out there feeling like his old self yet, but it is safe for him to practice.”
White’s only physical difference among his teammates is a knee brace. He wears it for precautionary reasons, but it is a rigid, jointed support device. At times, it is cumbersome for White, and Smart conceded that it could be taken off during practice.
But it hasn’t stopped the former five-star, 220-pound running back, who goes by the nickname “Zeus.” White is making the same cuts and moves as the rest of his teammates.
“Zamir is definitely very explosive,” Georgia senior guard Kendall Baker said. “He’s a great back, and all of the backs we have are great. It will be hard to choose one, and they’ll have the same problem as last year.”
Baker pinpointed a problem that running backs coach Dell McGee has — a crowded backfield. It could be advantageous for Georgia, but it is crowded as White and four-star recruit James Cook enter the program with more-experienced players Elijah Holyfield and D’Andre Swift.
White, coming off of the knee injury, could see a progressive workload as Smart could take a precautionary approach. Fans saw a preview of White’s capabilities at the high school level.
Many times at Scotland County, White would only play a half of football and post a statistic resembling that of a full-game workload. The team’s Twitter account would post White’s staggering high school stats each week, and he had accrued 130 yards and three touchdowns (on only seven carries) the night of the season-ending injury.
Bailey doesn’t expect White to post similar numbers as a freshman at Georgia but said he had the opportunity to coach a “generational” talent.
“He’s an electric guy who can fly at 220 pounds. Zamir has the ability to run into you, around you and catch the ball out of the backfield,” Bailey said. “He’s at the upper echelon of people who can do these things. … Moving forward, there’s a chance for him to be a Heisman Trophy winner one day.”