Following seven surgeries to fix his shattered left leg, 384 days and a grueling, often lonely, rehabilitation process, New York Giants offensive lineman Nick Gates returned to the practice field on Wednesday.
“I’m just excited to be back out there. I just want to go out and just play football again, not have to think, not have to worry about making calls, just go out there and play football,” Gates said in the Giants’ locker room on Wednesday, that scarred left leg resting on a chair as he stood before several media members. “It was fun, it’s fun to be back out there with the guys. That camaraderie, you don’t get that when you’re just by yourself doing indy [individual drills] or off to the side, so it was good to be back.”
Gates now has 21 days to show the Giants that he can help the team over the second half of the season. After that time period, the Giants have to decide whether to place him on the 53-man roster or leave him inactive for the remainder of the season. He said he got four reps Wednesday during team periods, along with work in individual drills.
“It’s [21 days] all I’ve got, but I feel good. It’s nice to be back out there on the field, nice to be running around with the guys,” Gates said “It was a good time, it was a good feeling to be back out there. I didn’t think I was going to get back out there this fast.”
Pretty much no one thought Gates would be back this fast. There was initially some fear he might lose his left leg, and then fears he would never play again.
Gates’ final surgery in February was to replace the rod in his leg, a surgery necessitated because he had developed an infection.
Gates said he might have been ready to practice “mid-training camp if not the beginning” without the final surgery.
Giants’ guard Ben Bredeson said it was “awesome” to see Gates return to practice.
“Just being able to see his whole journey, from the injury to rehabbing, to the point where he’s at now where he’s able to practice again it’s been awesome,” Bredeson said.
“I’m very proud of him, very happy for him and it’s just a good day for him.”
As a member of the Carolina Panthers, current Giants’ placekicker Graham Gano missed the entire 2019 season with a fractured femur. He has returned to being one of the league’s best kickers.
“I think the biggest thing is a lot of people see the injury, but you don’t see the hard work and the pain, the hard days, the times early on when you could see just how many struggles he was going through just to recover. Seeing that it makes today that much more special as a friend of his.”
Gates admitted Wednesday that the road back has been a trying one.
“Definitely gets a little lonely,” he said. “All the guys in the locker room had my back trying to include me as much as they could but it was it was a rollercoaster of emotions, I’m not going to lie.”
Gates said he leaned on Giants Director of Wellness and Clinical Service, Dr. Lani Lawrence, for help. Lawrence is a sports psychologist.
Gates said he “definitely” had times where he wondered if he would make it back, or if the effort was worth it.
“I think those thoughts are just natural,” he said. “I talked to Dr. Lani a little bit and she was like, that’s normal, it’s part of the injury and part of the process of healing and moving forward.”
In recent weeks, as a return at least to the practice field became more and more realistic, Gates found himself excited by the possibility.
“I just want to play football again, to be honest with you,” Gates said. “Just being out there is fun. I don’t know how to explain it, but I was watching in the box the last couple of weeks we were playing and I’m like I just want to be back out there again with the guys and just have fun. What other job lets you hit people and basically do whatever you want?”