Junior Galette's season abruptly ended with a torn Achilles near the start of the regular season. Two months later, Galette is in positive spirits and eager to repay the team in 2016.
Before training camp, linebacker Junior Galette was watching a documentary about Kobe Bryant. Specifically, he remembers watching Bryant describe the Achilles injury he suffered in 2013 that altered his NBA career and began a challenging road to recovery.
"He said it felt like someone kicked him in the back of his leg," Galette said.
Maybe watching the film was a premonition, but it also helped immediately diagnose the same sharp pain Galette would feel on Aug. 26, nearly three weeks before the regular season, when he collapsed in the middle of practice at Redskins Park and was quickly rushed and surrounded by teammates and coaches, confused and frightened.
"I got off the ball and all of a sudden it felt like someone kicked me in the back of my leg," Galette said. "I literally turned around and there's no one there and I'm like, right away, I just thought Achilles, and I dropped down to the floor and knew."
What he knew was that his season was done, just like that. His shot at redemption, signing a minimum contract thanks to an olive branch extended by the Redskins, wouldn't be fulfilled in 2015, a year that was going to prove his value and refurbish some of his tarnished image.
The moment, of course, was heartbreaking. Galette had never had an Achilles problem, let alone a serious injury of any type. It was heartbreaking for the Redskins, too, who were excited to pencil in a dynamic, sack-inducing linebacker into their defensive plans for the season.
But Galette's not one to lament about the recent past or think about the what ifs. He looks for analogies to equate his current struggles, like how he went undrafted out of Stillman College and made the Saints' starting roster in 2010. Or how he dealt with getting cut by the Saints five years later, back in July, and then signing with the Redskins for the veteran's minimum. He realizes next year will be another challenge, trying to prove to everyone around him that he can be the same explosive edge player even after a major setback like this.
The Washington Redskins today announced the signing of linebacker Junior Galette. Take a look back at the pass rusher's five-year NFL career.
"If you learn how to embrace struggle and hard times and know that it won't ever last, then when success comes," Galette said, "it's just going to taste that much better."
The reasons he has this belief have little to do with the fact that his recovery is ahead schedule, or that he's out of his walking boot, and everything to do with his own life story. Undrafted players have a certain chip on their shoulders, but also a greater appreciation for the dedication they put into their craft and the lengths they've gone to perfect them. Galette has the mindset that no matter what, "he's going to give it all, and he will not lose."
That's when Galette begins to think about his childhood. He was born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and his parents left for the United States when he was just a baby. Eventually they raised enough money for Galette and his two brothers to live with them in New York. It's here where Galette makes his point, that he dedicated himself to learning English as a second language. He was in a class with all types of foreign students that couldn't communicate. He had no friends but the teacher. That's when he decided to buckle down.
"I'm like, 'Man I have to get out of here,'" Galette said. "So I did what I had to do. [I] got straight A's and got out of there within, like, two months. As long as there's a goal -- I'm an extremist, I'm not halfway in. I'm all the way in. I want to be the best. I don't care what anybody else has to say"
He's come a long way from that ESL classroom.
After joining the Redskins, Galette was welcomed with open arms by teammates and coaches. The reception made it seem as if he had been playing in Washington for the last five years. Really, it's helped him through the last eight weeks, pushing around a scooter everywhere, watching (and yelling at) Redskins games on the television, just believing he'll be able to return for 2016 and repay the organization for giving him a second chance.
"It's amazing," Galette said. "The first day I went out, everybody was texting me, guys were literally in tears, it was crazy. They saw the passion and that I cared for the game… relationships are always important in life, period."
He's developed even more with his two sons now that he's had more time around the house. Soon, he's going to get active within the community, by going to schools and speaking to students about his life story because he feels it's "important."
He'll also be more of a frequent visitor to Redskins Park now that he's walking again. He'll get more exercise and treatment and begin rehabbing in the pool, the early steps to strengthening the tendon that is so vital for his style of play.
"Coming back here and getting in the facility, you just want to come back so bad and prove to everybody you're more than just some hype, or you're more than just some tease," said Galette, who is confident he'll still have the luxury of staying in Ashburn for next season.
"The goal is to be here," he said.
But that's still many months away. Right now Galette is a changed man. He's happy. He's positive. He's itching to get back on the field. And, most importantly, he's found a clearer, humbled perspective through which to view his life.
"I have a torn Achilles. I'm blessed," Galette said. "It could have been worse… trust me."