Nov. 14, 2011
ATHENS---- A string of bad luck and injuries can easily bring down someone’s attitude. Despite injuries ending his football career at Georgia, senior Jason Veal doesn’t let it affect him negatively--it only makes him stronger.
Growing up in Lilburn, Ga., Veal attended numerous Bulldog games and a love for the team formed. When the time came for Veal to decide where to begin his collegiate career, Veal chose to walk on at Georgia over smaller schools like Davidson in North Carolina.
“In February of my senior year the coaches called me asking if I wanted to be on the team,” Veal said. “Especially as a high school kid and you aren’t getting recruited by big schools, you are like whoa. So I was like, ‘Yeah I will do it.’ It was kind of cool. This is definitely where I wanted to be, and I’m glad to be here.”
Coming to Georgia as a walk-on, the inside linebacker had to start off on the scout team. Trying to find his way on the field proved difficult, as coaching changes and injuries were challenges to overcome.
“I guess my first three years, including last spring, I went through three different coaches, so it was hard to really develop a base,” Veal said. “So I went from ground zero when all the new coaches came in, which set me back a little bit.”
On top of that, Veal had to miss about two-thirds of the 2010 season after sustaining a liver injury from a jet-ski accident.
“There are times that you want to quit, but there are always those opportunities for playing,” Veal said. “I love being around these guys, that more than anything, and the program. I have never been one to just wear a jersey. I have never wanted that. But just to be part of this program is really something. Maybe the opportunity to play some special teams was always there, but it was just out of grasp. It was difficult, but I think I have gotten stronger because of it.”
Bouncing back was the only option for Veal entering his last year. After recording two tackles in the spring G-Day game and working hard in the offseason, Veal along with eight other teammates were called to the front of the team meeting during a session to be told some unsuspecting news. No longer were they to be walk-ons, but were official scholarship players for Georgia.
“Everybody just jumped all over us,” Veal said of the team’s reaction. “It was the best feeling ever. It just shows that your hard work does pay off.”
The Bulldogs weren’t the only ones excited for Veal. His family’s reaction showed how proud they were of him.
“My grandfather always gets real emotional. So every time I would see him, he would get choked up,” Veal said. “My parents were just ecstatic. They were probably more excited than I was. It was pretty crazy.”
Veal’s senior year was off to a bright start. However, in October as the team prepared for the Tennessee game, Veal was going up against offensive tackle Austin Long when his leg twisted and popped. Veal knew immediately what happened after having the same injury twice in high school--an ACL tear.
ACL tears are usually season-ending injuries, and for Veal it was also career ending. For some, a negative attitude is an easy outcome. Veal chose the high road.
“Yes, it’s a bummer, but maybe the Lord didn’t have that for me and football is over for me,” Veal said. “I just need to move on to the next thing. It happened, but there is no need to feel sorry for yourself. That isn’t going to do anybody any good. I just want to have healthy legs for my family one day and be active the rest of my life. Being at UGA and getting hurt multiple times, you learn to bounce back. It makes you stronger. That is probably the biggest take away from all this--that I have become stronger through all this.”
Veal is making the most of the rest of his time at Georgia. He still attends position meetings once or twice a week. Veal spends time talking to some of the younger walk-ons who have experienced ACL injuries this season. Spending more time in the training room, Veal has also made friends with the athletic trainers, especially Mark Christensen who is trying to recruit Veal to coach his Power Soccer team.
As for surgery to repair the tear, Veal will not undergo it until after the Kentucky game, as he will get to participate with the other seniors on the team in Senior Day. With the help of Team Chaplain Thomas Settles and Director of Sports Medicine Ron Courson, it is planned for Veal to brace up, put on his pad and run out there for the last time.
The future for Veal reflects his attitude through his athletic obstacles. When he graduates with a degree in finance, Veal hopes to find a job somewhere to help others feel stronger.
“I want to feel like I’m having an impact on people,” Veal said. “Where I feel that I’m making a difference and not just making money.”