Five (and 1/2) Lessons I Learned from Maurice Jones-Drew

MoJo with Mike Ryan and his son

This NFL season marked a milestone for me. With twenty-four years in the league, I’ve now spent half my life on the sidelines working in elite sports medicine. To say the least, the 2011-12 NFL season was a turbulent and fascinating one for the Jacksonville Jaguars. We fired our head coach, Jack DelRio, at mid-season. Wayne and Delores Weaver, our founding owners, announced they were selling the team to Shahid Khan. And, we finished with a disappointing 5-11 record. Amazingly, for me, these weren’t the biggest events of my season as the Head Athletic Trainer and Physical Therapist.

The statistic that most impacted me was the 31 players that we put on Injured Reserve. Thirty-one!  The NFL allows a team to dress 45 players per game.  During this regular season, the Jags activated 74 different players! This is more turnover than your local McDonald’s. Needless to say, my medical staff and I were busy managing a boatload of injuries this season.

NFL Leading Rusher

Despite all of this internal turmoil, our season’s shining star was Maurice Jones-Drew.  The NFL’s leading rusher is also the heart & soul of our team. MJD overcame a serious knee injury last season to play in all 16 regular season games this year.  My job was to rehabilitate his knee, manage all his new injuries and to keep him healthy every day and ensure he was ready to compete on Sunday.  This was further complicated with the NFL lockout this season. And, it’s further burdened when your guy is a 5′ 7″ running back who gets punished nearly all of the 343 times he touched the ball. It’s a testament to him he lead the league with 1606 yards.

When I have the opportunity to interact with successful people, I’ve made it a life habit of learning from them.  During this season, I’ve spent more time with Maurice Jones-Drew than I have with my own wife. As you might imagine, when you spent that much time together, you really gain appreciation and insight into the player – and the man. He is a true professional who prepares like a madman for each and every game. And, his preparation drives results in an NFL leading 1606 rushing yards and his 3rd straight Pro Bowl season.

MoJo is a fun guy to be around, but don’t let his electric smile and playful demeanor fool you.  He’s an intelligent guy from UCLA with enormous, tree-trunk legs and even bigger life goals.  MoJo is a winner. And, he’s just getting started.

Here’s are five (and 1/2) lessons I learned from MoJo this season:

1.  Have a Big Carrot

Visualizing a clear goal or, as I like to call it, “focusing on your carrot”, provides a path to success and is a critical part of the plan for MoJo.  He always has to prove himself to others in this “big man’s” sport. For MoJo, establishing a motivational plan before he steps into the locker room for his first practice is an enormous reason why he is so successful.

2.  Believe in Yourself First

Maurice wastes little energy worrying about what others think about him.  He believes in himself first.

Call “IT” pride or confidence or courage, but you clearly see “IT” every time MJD puts his hands on the football.  You see no doubt or fear when he runs with the ball into the heart of an angry defensive line.  He believes strongly in himself and his abilities. And, it’s for great reason.

3.  Know What You Need

#32 knows exactly what he needs to prepare himself for battle and to perform at an elite level each and every game.  Make no mistake about it. He’s in charge and I’m working with him not on him.

Before our second to last game this season in Tennessee,  he had an injury that we treated throughout the week.  Before the game, I taped the injury in a manner that I thought was perfect. It was based on my experience and the projected stress on that body part.  (Yes, can you tell that I’m not going to disclose the injury?)  After one play, he limped off the field and made it very clear to me EXACTLY how he wanted the injury taped.  My twenty-four years in the NFL didn’t matter because he knew what he needed to do his job.  I love that about him because THAT type of feedback is priceless for sports medicine specialists like me working with world-class athletes.

4.  Pain Is Part of the Game

When your body is getting pounded by large men, it makes sense that your body will hurt and pain will often wake you up before the alarm clock.  MJD understands that aspect and he uses that pain as an important source of feedback.  The type and location of the pain is used to help us direct both his rehab and preparation each week.  We had games this year on Sundays, Mondays, Thursday and Saturday. With an erratic game schedule, it made it difficult to create consistency in rehab. MJD’s subjective perspective on that “pain meter” creates insight that allows me to help him.

5.  Honesty is the Best Buffer

Maurice has been blessed with the gift of gab and everyone knows it.  His honesty is refreshing.  He speaks his mind and he will always be open with his opinion.  I’ve learned to have thick skin since 1988, my first year in the NFL.  With that being said, I find MoJo’s open and honest communication style a perfect method to help me properly manage an agressive sports medicine rehab program for a high-level athlete.

Bonus 1/2 Pearl, Because Even MoJo Doesn’t Know This Yet…..

5 1/2.  He Loves to Work Hard

I’m sure MJD will laugh at this one because he is so focused on preparing for the next game.  Maurice LOVES to be challenged with impossible workouts and then have his toughness questioned for his ability to complete the workout.  That’s when the fun begins…

He always comes right back at me with an impressive barrage of verbal assaults.  As long as I don’t back down to his request to change the plan, the challenge is on!  Whether it’s a brutal core medicine ball workout or an interval swimming program, he’ll quickly think about it, put his game face on and then he’ll attack the exercise as if it’s a 4th-and-goal running play with the game on the line. And everyone in the northern hemisphere knows who’s getting the ball…

If I was the coach, I wouldn’t give it to anyone else.