HARAHAN, La. -- Underneath a blazing hot sun, the perspiration collects on Chad Jones' forehead, then trickles down the sides of his face.
His resistance parachute billows behind him as he sprints from one end of the Jefferson Park football field to the other. Back and forth he runs in the 82-degree heat, as if chasing something he can't quite catch. Speed and agility trainer Derrick Joseph, a soft-spoken but no-nonsense guy, watches as he fights through the fatigue, pushing his body with every stride. If there is pain, Jones does not show it.
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The car accident that severely damaged his left leg and nearly killed him a year and a half ago has not softened nor shaken him. The red T-shirt he wears -- the one drenched in sweat with the words "New York Giants" printed across the chest -- is further proof that he has not given up. Jones, 23, has spent the past 15 months re-training and re-sculpting his body in hopes of returning next season to the team that selected him in the third round (76th overall) of the 2010 draft. And Monday night he'll get his first taste of the NFL.
"I play for the New York Giants," said the 6-3, 230-pound Jones, who won national titles with LSU's football and baseball teams. "I know guys on the Giants team, guys that, for the little time I was there, I was sweating around with and who were dying out there with me during rookie minicamp. So I'm a New York Giants fan for sure."
It will be the first live NFL action Jones will see, and it undoubtedly will serve as extra motivation on his road to recovery. Jones, an affable guy with an easygoing smile, is a local celebrity in Louisiana, but he doesn't act like it. "He thinks he's equal to everybody," said Robbie Newman, 26, the older brother of Jones' girlfriend, Jade, and one of the passengers in Jones' car the day of the accident. "And that's what I really like about him."
Despite constantly being stopped at the gym and on the street, Jones doesn't mind. "When everybody's telling me they're praying for me," he said. "I always tell people, 'Your prayers are working.' "
"Chest up. Deep breath. Straight through the heel. Whatever you do, don't fade."
Carter Stamm's unmistakable Mississippi twang fills the small gym as Jones steadies the bar on his upper back and bends his knees. With each dip and rise of 325 pounds, Stamm, Jones' strength and flexibility coach, becomes giddy, darting from one side of the machine, taking note of Jones' left leg in particular.
After eight or nine reps, Jones can take no more. He drops the bar to the floor with a resounding thud. Stamm is delighted. So is John Moran, Jones' physical therapist. "I said 400 [pounds] in six to eight weeks. I sold him short," says Stamm, the owner of Final Fitness, where Jones works out five times a week.
"That's insane," Moran replies, still shaking his head. "You make it look easy, Chad."
Moran worked with Jones for 11 months at Southern Orthopaedic Specialists after the accident and then called on Stamm and Joseph to take Jones to the next level. "The first day Chad ran, Derrick and I both had the same response," Stamm said. " . . . 'Oh, man. That was ugly.' But lo and behold, within about two weeks, the improvement was just unbelievable."
The next step, according to Joseph and Moran, is getting Jones in pads and "hitting some guys" in January or February.
Jones' father, Al, is one of the few people not surprised by his son's speedy recovery. "He doesn't accept failure," he said. Then he told the story of how his son struggled to walk with his crutches through the New Orleans airport because he refused to use a wheelchair. "You have to understand the mentality," said his father, a high school principal in New Orleans who has a green-and-white sign in his office that reads "No Excuses." "This is who he is. And that's why I know he's going to beat it."
Shards of broken headlights from Jones' 2010 Supercharged Range Rover can be spotted in the median on North Carrollton Avenue near Toulouse Street 17 months later. The scratch marks from the collision still can be seen on the light pole; its concrete base remains broken into four pieces.
Jones was cited for careless operation of a vehicle after he lost control of his SUV and struck the pole on June 25, 2010. According to the police report, Jones told police he had not been drinking alcohol or using any drugs ("prescription, non-prescription or street"). The officer who filed the report did not observe the odor of alcohol inside the vehicle on Jones or his two passengers. Due to "lack of sufficient evidence of possible intoxication by way of alcohol or drugs," no DUI test was given. The police report also doesn't specify the speed Jones was traveling at the time of the accident.
Jones and his girlfriend of nearly eight years, Jade Newman, 22 -- who have a 3-year-old son together named Chad Jr. -- had spent months avoiding the accident site, but earlier this year, on a weekday trip to a sneaker store, they accidentally passed it for the first time.
"Looking at the pole, it felt like my leg started vibrating," said Jones, who got back into cleats for the first time nine days ago. "I was like, 'This is where it all happened. But it's much better than having a cross right there."
The front axle of Jones' SUV snapped on impact and shot straight up his left leg. Jones' fibula, tibia and ankle were shattered. His femoral artery was punctured. Newman said Jones had only five units of blood left in his body as he lay screaming for pain medicine in the ambulance. He finally opened his eyes after surgery when his mother, Patti -- who drove nine hours from Fort Worth with her husband -- whispered in his ear.
Al Jones also believes a network of "angels" was watching out for their son the day of the crash. The supervising police officer on the scene was their former neighbor; the supervisor for the responding fire department crew was Jones' Little League baseball coach; a cousin of Al's who is an anaesthesiologist at University Hospital provided updates during their trek from Texas, and the EMS supervisor, a longtime friend of Al's, helped convince the doctor not to amputate Jones' foot.
Said Jones, "It's as if I had angels everywhere I was going."
Bearing the scars
Sitting on the couch in the New Orleans home that he shares with Newman, Jones scrolls through the picture gallery on his laptop. One photo shows a bloody tangle of tendons and flesh and a portion of a femur visible through his left thigh. Another shows Jones' left heel, which had been ripped wide open. "I can't believe I'm using this leg," he says quietly, scrolling though more photos before stopping again. "Look how busted up that foot is."
He rolls down the black compression stocking he wears daily, revealing a discolored and swollen left leg punctuated with scars: the staple marks from the fasciotomy he needed to relieve the pressure in his leg, the remnants of multiple skin grafts, and a massive gash on his upper thigh that resembles a shark bite. "My leg is a sight, for sure," says Jones, who walks with a slight limp. "It's never going to look like the right leg. The speed of movement is catching up, the strength is catching up, so as long as that's working, I can care less how it looks."
However, the grueling and long rehabilitation process has impacted Jones mentally at times, with uncertainty and self-doubt creeping in. "I used to think, 'Is this the closest I'll be able to get to a Giants game?' " Jones said. "It's just so much that's happened over the course of this year and a half that affected me as far as football. I used to watch the games and get down on myself. I just wondered, 'Am I going to make it? Am I going to get back?' I was sort of second-guessing myself."
But with his accident came clarity and much-needed maturity. His priorities weren't in order when he was "wild and loose" with "a chunk of change in my pocket" after signing his NFL contract. But he soon realized the value of family and fatherhood. "I guess it's one of the better things that has happened to me," Jones said. "It definitely slowed me down, but it didn't stop me."
'Dreadlocks of Doom'
It was Jones' size that caught Marc Ross' eye first. The Giants' director of college scouting vividly remembers the LSU stud, nicknamed "Dreadlocks of Doom," as big for a safety but athletic and versatile. "They played him all over the place, kind of like a linebacker, and they played him back deep," he said. "He just had a unique skill set."
Jones, a lefthanded pitcher and outfielder, was drafted by the Astros in 2007 and the Brewers in 2010. But even in the face of a horrific injury, he never considered falling back on the safer sport. "There's no logical explanation other than I just love playing football," he said. "I know when I get out there, everybody's just going to be critiquing every single thing I do. So I've got to shut everything down so they can say, 'Oh, that's the Chad Jones we remember.' "
His tight-knit circle believes he'll be bigger, stronger and better prepared for football by next season. Stamm and Moran use expressions such as "phenom" and "freak of nature" to describe Jones the athlete. It's not hyperbole, they insist. Word of Jones' 4.84 40-yard dash Oct. 5 -- his 23rd birthday -- spread quickly.
"He's a winner," said his brother, Rahim Alem, who played with Jones at LSU and is a former Cincinnati Bengal.
Charles Way, the Giants' director of player development, was the first to invite him to be on the sideline for Monday night's game. Patti Jones said she still is grateful to Way and Ronnie Barnes, the team's senior vice president of medical services, for quickly securing medical treatment for her son in Manhattan after the accident.
The Giants helped Jones -- who inked a four-year, $2.6- million contract two weeks before the crash -- secure his signing bonus ($825,965) through a payment plan and still have him on their reserve/non-football injury list.
Jones said he will be pacing the sideline. "I just know I'm going to be happy being out there clowning around with my teammates," he said.
After years of watching Jones grow up, Giants defensive back and Louisiana native Corey Webster is anxious to have him on the sideline. He's confident that Jones, whom he considers his little brother, will make a full recovery.
"It may seem far-fetched -- from just hoping that he could get back to walking, now we're trying to get him to play or go out there and compete for a job -- but I think it's healthy to have those goals," said Webster, an LSU alum who is expected to work out with Jones in the offseason. "He's strong. Louisiana strong."