Virginia tailback Perris Jones, in the moments after taking a helmet-to-helmet hit from Louisville defensive back Cam’ron Kelly in a Nov. 9 game, couldn’t feel anything, his body numb.
On Tuesday, less than three weeks later, Jones walked out of UofL Health’s Frazier Rehabilitation Institute, to head back to Charlottesville to continue his rehab.
“If you can make it through the night, there’s a brighter day. I stand by that,” Jones said Tuesday, an emotional day for a lot of people associated with this story.
Jones was on the turf, motionless, for several minutes after the hit.
As he came to grips with what had happened, Jones said he “closed my eyes and said a quick prayer.”
In the immediate aftermath, the prayer was answered in the form of a quick response from the training and medical staffs on both sidelines.
Jones was stabilized on the field and taken to UofL Health, where the next day, he underwent spinal surgery.
He was kept in intensive care for a week before being transferred to the Frazier Rehabilitation Institute on Nov. 17.
It was expected at the outset that he may be at UofL Health for several weeks, but Jones – a former walk-on who worked his way into a scholarship and then a two-year stint as Virginia’s starting tailback – is accustomed to exceeding others’ expectations.
“Every injury is unique, and even patients with the identical injury to Perris with the same level of severity might have a different outcome. However, this is a young man who doesn’t stop. He’s a young athlete that we actually had to stop him because he kept going, going and going,” said Dr. Camilo Castillo, the director of spinal cord injuries at the Frazier Rehabilitation Institute.
There’s still a lot of work to do for Jones. The injury, per Castillo, resulted in his upper body being weaker than his legs, and his right side to be weaker than the left.
Rehab from a serious injury doesn’t come with linear progress.
It’s a lot of fits and starts.
“It’s been a bit challenging for me, because with football, it’s such a merit-based system. You work so hard, and you get rewarded for your efforts and actions,” Jones said. “Dr. Castillo reminded me that this is not like that, because you can work as hard as you want, but there’s no guarantee that everything will come back as you want it to. So, just being patient throughout the process and making sure to take it a day at a time.”
What has helped him through is his faith, which is obviously unshakable.
“Since being here and since everything happened, it’s not something that you plan for, it’s not something that you ever expect to happen, it’s not something you want to happen, but it did. I’m a firm believer in Jesus Christ. That’s something I stand on, so I firmly believe everything happens for a reason,” Jones said.
He also has his roommate, Mike Hollins, who was left with life-threatening injuries in the Nov. 13, 2022, mass shooting that killed three of their UVA Football teammates – Devin Chandler, Lavel Davis Jr. and D’Sean Perry – to serve as inspiration.
“That’s my warrior right there,” Jones said. “If he can do it, I can do it, too.”
Tuesday was a good day for Jones and the Virginia Football family, a celebration of perseverance from a group that has had to endure a lot over the past year.
But Jones isn’t out of the woods yet.
“It really does come down to grit,” UofL Chief Medical Officer Jason Smith said. “I remind folks that sometimes, we have the easy part, and then it relies on the patient’s grit and determination to get the outcome they have.”
Jones is going to need more grit and determination to get to the endgame with rehab.
Grit comes with the territory with Perris Jones, who overcame the odds just getting on the football field at Virginia.
“That’s one thing I’ve held on to throughout the process, because you’re going to have good and bad days because coming from being a walk-on,” Jones said. “Man, that’s a rough lifestyle, but I’m grateful for it, and it built me into who I am today, because you can work so hard and not get anything, but it’s about the vision you have for yourself, your outlook and goals, and if you stay committed to that, then there’s no such thing as a bad day.”
Perris’ Road to Recovery
Message from Andrea Shine, Perris Jones’ mother:
My son Perris Jones, a University of Virginia running back, was recently involved in a spinal injury during his football game against Louisville. Currently, he is starting his journey of recovery at a rehabilitation center working on regaining the function of his hands after the life-altering injury.
Although he is unable to step on the field to play again, his future is still bright. This GoFundMe is intended to support Perris as he figures out the next steps in his journey of recovery and independence.
Thank you for being a source of strength, hope, and support during this critical time in Perris’s life.