T.J. Hockenson Has Found That the Waiting Is the Hardest Part

Photo Credit: Kareem Elgazzar/The Enquirer-USA TODAY Sports

T.J. Hockenson doesn’t think Kerby Joseph is a dirty player. He’s just upset that the knee injury he sustained on Joseph’s low hit has forced him to rehabilitate all summer and may keep him out for the first half of the season.

“I got nothing against him,” said Hockenson. “I played with him in Detroit, and I understand that’s kind of what they expect you to do in the league. But [still], I would have much rather gone down with a concussion for two weeks and have to go through this for nine months.”

Naturally, people’s ears perk up when a player mentions concussions. The league downplayed the effects of concussions for years, and they have had a devastating impact on some players. Therefore, we shouldn’t take it lightly when Hockenson evokes them while discussing his injury.

“I mean, I think [a concussion] puts me out two weeks, three weeks,” said Hockneson. “This puts me out nine months. I can’t – you can’t even train. I mean, I’m squatting, I’m doing stuff, I’m doing my rehab and getting back. But I mean, I would have had a normal offseason and getting ready to go for this season.

“I know obviously some are worse than others, and I don’t want to go down that train of what’s worse, what’s better, what’s this. But I mean, I’ve had a concussion. It took me a week, so I’m just looking at it from that pure time stamp and that pure timetable.”

The wait to return to play weighs on Hockenson. He loves football, and he also wants to rejoin the Minnesota Vikings. That may seem curious, given that Minnesota is coming off a seven-win season, lost Kirk Cousins in the offseason, and has plenty of holes to fill on the roster. Still, the Vikings are a good landing spot for a rookie quarterback because they have a coaching staff that won 13 games two years ago and an arsenal of offensive weapons.

However, Sam Darnold, or whoever ends up under center for the Vikings, would benefit from Hockenson’s presence. Justin Jefferson is Minnesota’s star receiver, and Jordan Addison had an impressive rookie year. But Kevin O’Connell utilizes pass-catching tight ends in his offense, and the tight end is often a safety blanket for young quarterbacks.

Hockenson likely won’t return until the middle of the season, but he said he won’t rule out being ready for Week 1. “ Anything is possible,” he said. “I definitely am not going to put a timeline on it.” Renowned orthopedic surgeon Dr. Neal S. ElAttrache performed the surgery. Hockenson also credits the Vikings’ training staff, especially Tyler Williams and Matt Duhamel, for their work in the rehab process. Still, that process has been draining.

“It’s day by day, it’s week by week, and obviously, negative thoughts creep in all the time,” he said. “That’s just human nature, but you know, in order for you to come out of things like this, you got to go through the dark times and be able to come back and see the light, and that’s kind of what I’ve done.”

Hockenson is sociable by nature and didn’t love being isolated during the early rehab process. He often talks about being in the locker room with “his brothers” and has close bonds with the other tight ends he trains with in Nashville. He’d rather be on the gridiron working on his game than in a medical facility stabilizing his knee.

“I mean those first few days, few weeks, where you can’t do anything, you know [that] you’re just bed-rested, that’s a dark time, you know,” he said. “So now, to be able to get back and start doing some rehab, start to squat, and really integrate myself into doing some football stuff, you start to see the light. You start to realize, hey, this is temporary, and we’ll be back from this.”

Hockenson will eventually emerge from rehab. Professional sports teams often send their patients to Dr. ElAttrache for surgery, and the Vikings have an advanced medical team working with their players. He may not be ready for Week 1, but Hockenson will eventually suit up and catch passes from whoever the Vikings put under center.

Still, this has been a trying process. “You learn a lot about yourself, and you learn a lot about who you are,” he said. “The dark times make the bright times better.” Waiting has been difficult for Hockenson, and Minnesota needs him on the field as soon as possible. But Hockenson and the Vikings will be better off waiting until he’s ready to return. Still, as we all know, the waiting is the hardest part.

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Photo Credit: Kareem Elgazzar/The Enquirer-USA TODAY Sports

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