Dion DuBose cherishes every second of his time on Georgia Southern’s football field because he is proof that the opportunity can be taken away in an instant.
The 6-foot-1, 235-pound defensive end from Norcross suffered a season-ending left knee injury Nov. 13, 2010, against Western Carolina during his junior year. He tore the anterior cruciate ligament, medial collateral ligament and posterior cruciate ligament, and missed the Eagles’ final regular-season game along with four playoff games.
DuBose missed the entire 2011 season. He endured excruciating rehabilitation exercises with the goal of rejoining his teammates for his senior season in 2012.
"The whole rehab process took a year," he said after Monday’s practice, which began GSU’s second week of spring drills. "The trainers, they worked me real hard. I thank them. And then I went to another rehab place called Southeastern Orthopedic (Center). I thank them, too, because they worked me very hard.
"I never had that thought in my mind, ‘Would I be able to be back?’ I was like, I’m going to train as hard as I can. I’m going to rehab as hard as I can. And if I come out here and I don’t move like I want to or if I don’t play like I want to then I’ll know.
"Every time I was out here, I’d be out here working while they were practicing. That was my motivation, to keep working. And a lot of people on the team, they always kept telling me to keep going. And my family kept telling me to keep going. And I kept praying. I thank God because this is like a career-ending injury. Thank God I’m able to play again."
DuBose vividly remembers the play during which he was injured.
"I was squeezing down the tackle and the tight end came from the opposite side, trying to kick me out, and when he kicked me out, his helmet went straight to the outside of my knee," DuBose said. "I felt it, but I didn’t hear a pop. It just felt weird. I knew something was wrong when he made contact. It was pain. I was down, but when the doctor popped my knee back in place, I thought I was about to get up and walk. He was like, ‘No, it’s worse than what you think it is.’ I didn’t even try (to walk)."
DuBose said he has discovered that the biggest obstacle he has had to overcome from such a serious, career-threatening injury is the mental aspect.
"It’s a lot more mental (than physical)," said DuBose, who is majoring in sport management. "You’ve just got to keep yourself motivated every day to rehab and get better, to want to get better, to have that goal of wanting to get back out here on this field.
"I learned not to take anything for granted. I learned not to just be out here going through the motions. I know this can be taken away just like that. Just know that every play could be your last play."
GSU head coach Jeff Monken said he is inspired by DuBose’s dedication to fight back from the injury.
"I’m really proud of Dion’s effort," Monken said. "He had a great attitude through the whole process … and the thing I’ve been most impressed with is he does not appear to be playing timid … he’ll get better and knock the rust off from that year off."
DuBose came to GSU in 2008 from Norcross High School, where he made 174 tackles during his senior season, including 23 for loss, and six sacks. He was named Gwinnett County’s Defensive Player of the Year and was honorable mention all-state and first-team all-county.
By the end of his freshman season at GSU, DuBose had worked his way into the starting lineup at linebacker and was named to the Southern Conference’s All-Freshman Team.
As a sophomore in 2009, DuBose started in 10 of the 11 games in which he played at middle linebacker. He finished the season as GSU’s leading tackler with 85 tackles.
GSU’s coaching staff moved DuBose to defensive end during his junior season in 2010. He started in 10 games, including against Western Carolina.
"Our first spring here, he was playing linebacker and we knew he was one of our best 11 players," Monken said. "Didn’t know if he was one of our best three linebackers for what we wanted to do in our scheme, but we felt like he could be productive at defensive end. …
"Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to finish the season and make the playoff run with us, but he was really coming around to being a good player. I hope we can get him at least to the point where he can pick up where he left off, and he continues to get better and can be a real force for us."
DuBose now wears protective braces on both knees. He was not wearing braces when he was injured because he said the braces slowed down his mobility. DuBose said it doesn’t matter to him whether he plays at defensive end or at linebacker, just so long as he’s playing somewhere.
"As long as I’m on defense hitting somebody, I don’t care," he said, laughing. "I’m real excited to be back with the team."
Noell Barnidge can be reached at (912) 489-9408.