Austin Jensen couldn’t believe what he was hearing.
While sitting in an office in South Florida, Jensen was being told his football career was over.
All that pain, all that work -- now it was all over.
“I had to ask a couple of times,” Jensen said Wednesday night. “I had to have (the doctor) spell it out for me.”
The explanation was simple: Given the brain injuries Jensen suffered during a 2010 car crash, doctors could not give him the medical clearance he required to return to Florida Atlantic University’s football team. The Owls gave Jensen a full scholarship after he graduated from Manatee, where he played linebacker.
He didn’t share the news with anyone for two months before going public with the diagnosis earlier this week. He addressed his teammates Friday.
“I feel almost as if I I’ve had my legs cut out from underneath me,” Jensen said. “It’s been pretty tough, especially keeping it to myself.”
Considering what he has gone through, Jensen’s coming this close to playing football again is nothing short of remarkable.
A little more than a year ago, Jensen was a passenger in teammate’s Mickey Groody’s Explorer, on his way to FAU’s football banquet in Boca Raton, when the truck was clipped by another vehicle. Jensen, who was sitting in the back seat, was thrown out of the truck, and he wound up suffering two skull fractures, bleeding on his brain stem, a bruise on his brain, numerous pelvic fractures and abrasions on his body.
A two-time Class 5A all-state first-team pick while with the Hurricanes, Jensen persevered. He suffered through headaches, was forced to use a walker and endured a painful rehabilitation -- hoping all along to rejoin the Owls’ defensive backfield and special teams unit.
That dream has been sealed.
“It hit me pretty hard,” Jensen said.
Now Jensen is about to turn his gaze to another sport he played at Manatee, track and field. The caveat, however, is that FAU doesn’t field a men’s track team. So the school is looking into Jensen competing as a detached athlete and representing the Owls at meets.
“I’ll be the whole team,” he said. “I’ll be a one-man track team.”
Jensen plans on competing collegiately in the decathlon, which is fitting, considering he did a little bit of everything each spring with the Hurricanes.
“I just have to learn the high jump and pole vault, and I think I’m athletic enough to figure it out,” said Jensen, who graduates in December and plans to work toward a master’s degree next spring. “If I’m going to be the only one on the team, I’m not just going to do two events. Might as well do 10 events and be good in all of them.”
While playing football is out of the question, contributing to the team isn’t. He will be interning with FAU’s strength and conditioning coach in the fall, and the Owls’ other coaches said they still want him to stay on board to help out on the sideline.
“He was always in the right place. When Austin made plays, it wasn’t based off just athleticism, which we all know he had,” said Spencer Hodges, one of Jensen’s teammates at Manatee who is now a red-shirt senior at Jacksonville. “He’s a real smart player, and I think he’ll be a great asset to the team. Obviously, he would have been on the field, but off the field, as well.”
It’s going to be hard, Jensen said, watching practice this fall. And the impact of not being able to play hasn’t quite hit him yet.
But after what he is been through, he is happy to be alive, and ready to embrace a new challenge.
“I was blessed with the opportunity to play college football. There are not a lot of people in the world who get to do that,” Jensen said. “After the accident, my motivation has been on playing football. ... Now that I’ve found out that I can’t, I’m trying to train and work out, but that drive hasn’t been there. Now that I’m changing directions to track and field, I’m hoping that drive and fire just clicks, just transitions right over.
“If that’s the case, I think I’ll be all right.”