Justin Eboigbe details ‘challenging’ journey to get back onto the field

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — When Justin Eboigbe jogged off the field after Alabama’s 49-26 victory over Arkansas his mind was focused on continuing his strong stretch of play when the team returned home to face Texas A&M that following Saturday.

A few days later the senior’s mindset was focused on something completely different — recovering.

On the day the Forest Park, Georgia native was told his season was over by the Director of Sports Medicine Jeff Allen, Allen also left him with some parting words that stuck with Eboigbe: “It’s season-ending, not career-ending.”

“The worst thing that could happen is you get in your own head and you end up thinking, ‘Well, this is it for me.’ But I knew, I stayed behind the words that he told me that OK my season may be over, my career is not over,” Eboigbe said. “Every day I woke up and I knew that. It was tough days and stuff like that but I knew that me being able to play a game of football is not going to be taken from me forever, just this small setback. But I knew that every time that I worked and every time it was time to do something I knew I was gonna come back because it wasn’t career-ending, it was just season-ending.”

A few weeks later, Alabama head coach Nick Saban confirmed Eboigbe would miss the rest of the season but said he underwent an operation to “enhance his opportunity to be able to play in the future.”

Just like that the senior was done, playing just four games in 2022 and tallying 11 tackles along with two quarterback hurries. Instead of practicing out on the field with his teammates, he was working out with resistance bands trying to maintain as much strength as possible and stabilizing his core.

It became a grueling process that would have disheartened others, but not Eboigbe.

“I didn’t have no doubt cause I knew what was meant for me was meant for me and everything is gonna work out the way god planned it,” Eboigbe said. “So honestly of course you have a little self-doubt, but I knew that everything was gonna work out cause the way I was feeling and the feedback from the doctor of how happy and how proud he was as far as like the recovery aspect of where I was at every checkpoint that we had. I knew that everything was working out to where that self-doubt was clearing up.”

While his recovery kept him off the field, Eboigbe found ways to keep his mind sharp. One way he did this is by becoming a pseudo-coach. According to DJ Dale, Eboigbe would pull him, Byron Young and others aside to help them refine their technique in practice. While Dale appreciated the extra help, he missed having the defensive lineman out there with him.

“Justin, he’s helped out a lot,” Dale said in 2022. “He’s not a man of many words, but when he’s not around you can definitely tell his presence isn’t there and that it’s missed. He’s just kind of one of those guys who will pull you to the side and let you know what he sees. It’s been very beneficial to have him around even though he’s not playing. He’s been missed. When he first dealt with his injury, we sent him words of encouragement, and we were talking to the training staff daily to see how he’s doing. But he’s been missed, and he’s helped out a lot.”

Fast forward to April and Eboigbe finds himself in the same spot with four true freshmen joining the team this spring. Like he did last season, Eboigbe is thrust into a leadership role looking to help better his teammates during the month-long mini-camp.

“I learned to look at things from a different perspective because you’re so used to being out there on the field and you can only see from that vantage point but now you can see as if you’re watching film, sitting back and watching film because you can see it from the sideline view and watch it from TV,” Eboigbe said. “We all brothers. If there’s something that they don’t see that I can see that’s for me to help them. The fact that they was responsive enough to ask and wanna know what’s going on that they don’t see. That’s the only thing that I felt like I could do to help was to have my words and with my eyes could do to help them in that situation.”

However the difference this year No. 92 will be able to suit up and make his own contributions. While he’s excited to finally take the field in front of fans for the first time in more than six months, Eboigbe is appreciative of everything that it took to get him to this point.

“(It’s) definitely has been challenging. It’s been more mental than physical because you really don’t know what to expect,” Eboigbe said. “When everything went down, I’m just grateful for the coaching staff and training staff, especially for catching it early and honestly, doing the right things to catch it early and then get me with the right people to make sure that I was as happy as I am today.”