MOBILE, Ala. — Two days after Jalen Mills’ injury in preseason camp, doctors delivered the bad news to the LSU defensive back.
You fractured your fibula in your left leg.
You severely damaged at least two ligaments in your ankle.
You’ll be lucky to begin walking regularly in two months.
You could miss your entire senior season.
“I just stayed positive. My teammates stayed positive, my coaches stayed positive, my family prayed to God,” Mills said, “and I’m here.”
Here is the Senior Bowl, college football’s all-star game reserved for the nation’s best seniors. The North team meets the South team at 1:30 p.m. Saturday at Ladd-Peebles Stadium on the NFL Network.
The game’s result takes a back seat in this showcase of soon-to-be NFL players.
In fact, the most important days came earlier this week, when Mills and other invitees performed in front of a host of NFL scouts, coaches and staff members during three practices.
While Mills and others picked off passes, caught touchdowns and ran for scores, hundreds of scarf-wearing scouts mumbled opinions, jotted down notes or gossiped into their phones.
Later on, some national draft reporters even wrote stories and analysis.
“No other corner consistently beat receivers to the spot like Mills did,” wrote Rotoworld’s Josh Norris, on hand for Senior Bowl practice.
At one point during Wednesday’s practice, Mills ran his receiver’s route stride for stride, batting away two passes. In another session, he flashed his speed as a gunner on punts, and he showed his tackling ability during a third drill.
This all happened during the afternoons. At night, Mills met with scouts and coaches in the ballrooms and lobbies of the plush Renaissance Riverview Plaza Hotel.
They peppered him with questions, many of them about two things — that leg injury and his arrest on an initial charge of second-degree battery, a felony.
Mills’ second-degree battery charged was dropped to misdemeanor simple battery. Mills was sent through the court’s pretrial diversion program, and his charge was dismissed Dec. 4, 2015, according to court records.
That doesn’t stop NFL scouts from asking him about the incident. Police first arrested Mills and charged him with that felony for allegedly punching a woman.
“I tell them the truth. I’m pretty sure they already know the truth. They just want to hear it from the horse’s mouth,” Mills said. “I tell them the truth. Hope they trust my judgment.”
Mills doesn’t think the incident will affect his draft status. He’s projected as high as a second-round pick.
“After that situation, I came back to school, stayed clean as a whistle for a whole year,” he said. “I don’t get in trouble. That’s not my character.”
“Jalen told me he didn’t do it — I believe him,” said Claude Mathis, Mills’ high school coach at DeSoto High in DeSoto, Texas, a suburb of Dallas. “That’s an ordeal where if the truth doesn’t come out, it could really hurt you.”
And, then, there are the questions about his left leg.
On the final day of preseason camp Aug. 13, a lineman rolled into his ankle, fracturing the fibula, the largest of the two leg bones.
He dressed out for LSU’s Oct. 10 game against South Carolina, and he played the next week against Florida — eight weeks after the injury. That’s at least two to four weeks quicker than doctors first hoped.
“No surprise,” Mathis said with a chuckle. “No surprise.”
Mathis only coached Mills during his senior year. It didn’t take him long to realize Mills was on the career path to here.
“He used to get other kids out after practice and continue to work on his footwork, hand placement, speed cuts,” Mathis said. “He was always working on it. Kids would be flocking to him to help.”
Mills’ battle back from injury is nothing compared to his childhood.
Kisa Mills raised her two boys by herself, constantly moving around the Dallas area from house to house, from apartment to apartment. The moving seemed to never end, Jalen said. Why’d they move so much?
“Just us struggling, period,” he said without expanding.
Through it all, Kisa Mills was there — and is still there, very much in her son’s life as he trains in Miami for the NFL combine.
“She bugs me all day,” Jalen says with a smile. “I mean ... just asking me how I was doing. I had to tell her, ‘Mom, I can’t talk to you on the phone all day. I’m meeting, moving around.’
“She actually kind of got mad. I had to explain to her ... she’s happy for me. And for me to see her smile, knowing everything we’ve been through, it really brightens my heart. All of the hardship we went through — bad times, good times, happy times, sad times. She’s everything.”
But will she watch her son play close to home?
Mills grew up watching Dallas Cowboys games. He’d wander into his uncle or grandpa’s living room and, there they were on the TV. He doesn’t call himself a Cowboys fan, but he knows Kisa would prefer him stay as close to home as possible.
As of Monday, Mills had met with 30 of 32 NFL teams, he said.
His Senior Bowl week has been met with mostly positive reviews. Coaches stuck him at nickelback or cornerback mostly this week, but he’s capable of playing all three secondary positions — just like he did in a four-year career with the Tigers.
He might get that chance Saturday in the biggest showcase of his career — all the while running on that leg of his, the one in which doctors inserted a permanent steel plate.
Said Mills: “It will never come out.”
Louisiana At The Senior Bowl
- RB Kenneth Dixon, Louisiana Tech, 2nd round
- OG Vadal Alexander, LSU, 2nd round
- DT Vernon Butler, Louisiana Tech, 2nd round
- CB Jalen Mills, LSU, 2nd-3rd round NFL draft projection
- LB Deion Jones, LSU, 3rd round
- CB Harlan Miller, Southeastern, 4th round
- QB Jeff Driskel, Louisiana Tech, 7th round-free agent
- WR Ed Eagan, Northwestern State, N/A
Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter, @RossDellenger.