KeJon DeBerry loves football.
Just ask him.
"I was always ready to knock some heads off," he says excitedly.
Two summers ago, DeBerry was a rising star linebacker and running back for the Cook Hornets. Entering his junior year, he was attracting the attention of some of the nation's top college football programs.
"When college coaches came through south Georgia to visit schools, KeJon was always near the top of their lists," Cook head coach Bobby Jones remembers.
Then, DeBerry's entire football career nearly ended in an instant during an offseason workout in Hazlehurst.
"I was running to make the tackle, but the play was about to be over, so I slowed down," he remembers. "There was a big cluster, so I tried to jump over it. One of my teammates got pushed from behind and clipped me in the air. When I fell, my foot landed in a hole."
DeBerry was helped off the field. An emergency room doctor initially believed he had just sprained his knee.
But a visit to a doctor back home in Adel led to a much more devastating conclusion.
"I tore my ACL, my LCL, my PCL, and stretched my MCL," DeBerry says, listing off the injuries as if he's done it hundreds of times. "I dislocated my knee to the left, and suffered nerve damage in my foot."
The damage to the knee was so severe, doctors believed they may have to amputate DeBerry's leg. Walking on it ever again seemed a longshot, so playing football was almost completely out of the question.
"In my heart, I thought he wasn't going to get to play again," admits Cook head coach Bobby Jones.
DeBerry endured 12 hours of surgery to fix the damage to his ligaments. The scars from that day are easily readable on his leg.
Over the next 12 months, DeBerry met with Cook assistant coach Thomas Arnold to rehab his knee. He knew his junior season was toast, but he hoped to play again during his senior year.
DeBerry admits he heard the doubts around him, including from some of his own coaches. Those naysayers drove him during the grueling sessions with Coach Arnold.
"The quickest way to get KeJon to accomplish something, is say he can't," Jones laughs.
During his time out, all those major college football programs looking at DeBerry suddenly disappeared.
"They just stopped contacting me," he says. "There was a lot of anger, because I had been working for it since I was eight years old. Then all of it just went down the drain."
DeBerry defied the odds, suiting up for the Hornets in time for his senior season. He admits there was some hesitation on his part when he first stepped into live action. DeBerry wasn't alone in those concerns, but he seems he squashed those rather early.
"We're in a preseason scrimmage game. I don't know if it was the first or second play on defense, but he came up and makes a classic KeJon tackle," Jones remembers. "I had told the offensive coaches we weren't going to run KeJon that night. By the end of the scrimmage, we were giving him the football."
By midseason, the attention of several colleges had returned. One of those schools was Albany State.
The Golden Rams offered DeBerry a scholarship during his senior year. On National Signing Day, he officially became a Golden Ram.
"They gave me a shot," DeBerry smiles. "Anybody that gives me a shot, I'm going to give them everything I've got."
The scars from DeBerry's horrific injury remain and always will. But he says that's all they are, just scars.
And they certainly won't stop him from playing the game he loves.
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