By Greg Ostendorf
AUBURN, Ala. – When Jeremiah Dinson helped rip the football away from a Clemson wide receiver last Saturday and recovered it deep in Clemson territory, it was a huge momentum swing at the time. But Auburn eventually lost the game, and it's likely that play becomes just another play in a game most fans might rather forget.
It wasn't just another play to Dinson, though. Not for a player who missed the past year-and-a-half because of a knee injury that was so severe he thought he might not ever play again.
Dinson has a new appreciation for every play, every tackle, every fumble recovery. After the game, his father Ted asked him how he was doing mentally, and Dinson responded, "Dad listen, I don't get too high, and I don't get too low. I've learned to appreciate every moment."
"That's what it all about," Ted Dinson said. "It's about appreciating every moment. I'm not playing the game, but as his parent, I am just appreciating every moment because it could be taken from you so quickly."
It's been 678 days since that fateful night in College Station when Dinson tore his ACL, MCL and PCL, and dislocated both his knee and his shoulder. He still remembers his leg going numb and immediately thinking something was seriously wrong.
To this day, Dinson refuses to watch video of the play. But there's a newspaper hanging on the wall in his dorm room that shows him on the ground clutching his injured knee. It's a reminder of how far he's come, and it also pushes him to keep going.
"I really don't hang onto [the play], but it rolls in my head," Dinson said. "Not often but every now and again, it rolls in my head. I kind of use it as a good thing, as motivation, because that was two years ago. If you asked a year ago when I was rehabbing, 'Am I going to be here today?' I probably would've questioned it."
There were a lot of things Dinson might have questioned a year ago. Would he ever be the player he was before? Was his dream of making the NFL gone? But even at his lowest point, he never considered the possibility of never playing football again.
"I love this game," Dinson said. "I've been playing it since I was five. That thought never really went through my mind."
So Dinson attacked his rehab. He knew it would take time. He knew it wasn't going to be a quick recovery. But thanks in large part to his father's motivation, he kept working. He spent most of his time in the Auburn training room with "Mr. Dave" or David Walsh, the director of physical therapy at Auburn, who proved instrumental in Dinson's recovery.
It was the same training room Dinson saw when he and his father first visited Auburn.
"I visibly remember going through the locker room, and then we went to the training room," Ted Dinson said. "I looked at him and I was like, 'Don't get used to being in here.' We just chuckled, laughed about it. At that particular time, we never thought in a million years that something like that could happen.It's something that no parent wants or dreams that will happen.
"Seeing him back on the field is really a prayer answered."
Nobody understands what the past year-and-a-half has been like for Dinson better than former Auburn cornerback Joshua Holsey.
Holsey tore his ACL, not once, but twice during his time at Auburn. He missed half of the 2013 season and nearly all of the 2015 season recovering from the injuries. He and Dinson spent plenty of time in the training room together during that 2015 season. In fact, he was the one who advised Dinson to sit out the 2016 season to make sure he was 100 percent before returning.
Holsey was also the one who gave Dinson that newspaper that's hanging up in his dorm room.
"It's no fun," Holsey said. "Nobody wants to be on the sideline. That's just a tough time for anybody. As a player, that's just a tough time sitting on the sideline when you see your teammates and friends out there having fun.
"So I really was just there for him. I was like his big brother. When you get hurt like that, it kind of hits you more. I didn't want him to go into one of those shells that I went into. I always checked up on him. I'd go in there and see how he's doing in rehab – just little stuff. I care about him."
The biggest impact Holsey made on Dinson might have been his play on the field last season. Coming off his second ACL injury, Holsey had his best year at Auburn. He earned a starting role in the secondary and finished with 30 tackles, three interceptions and 10 passes broken up. This past April, he was selected by the Washington Redskins in the seventh round of the NFL draft.
"When you get an injury like this, a lot of people talk," Dinson said. "'The league is not going to take you' and just different things like that. But you see a guy that overcame adversity and had two ACL [injuries] and really played one full year. He was battling injuries throughout his career, but he had one outstanding year and he got drafted.
"I'm happy for him because I know how that ACL process is. But he really gave me more confidence that you can still go no matter what type of injury you have. If you make plays and you stay the course, you can go to the league."
There's no guarantee Dinson makes it to the NFL. He knows that. But he's on the field playing again, and that's a major accomplishment on its own considering where he was at a year ago.
So this season at Auburn, Dinson is just appreciating every moment.
"It's been a long two years," he said. "I'm just blessed to be back out there."
Greg Ostendorf is a Staff Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: