Originally created 11/28/02

After stroke, former UGA player strives to regain normal life



ATHENS, Ga. -- David Jacobs should be on the field. He should be sacking quarterbacks, making tackles, getting hit and returning the favor. He should be right in the middle of Georgia's best season in 20 years.

Unfortunately, his body won't let him.

His right side struggles to keep up with the left, transforming simple tasks such as running into an ordeal. His speech is a bit halting, his thoughts a little jumbled. His football career is over - before it ever really got started.

"The toughest part?" Jacobs said, sitting in a room that overlooks the practice fields at Georgia. "Seeing my friends out there having fun, and I can't be out there with them."

Still, he knows there is much to be thankful for during this holiday season, which comes just over a year after he had a stroke.

For three days, doctors weren't sure if Jacobs - a defensive lineman for the Bulldogs - would live or die. Even if he made it through that critical period, they made no guarantees about the quality of life he would have. The stroke hit the left side of his brain, affecting the right side of his body.

Would be able to talk? Would be able to walk? No one was sure - except for the woman who raised him.

"I went into prayer with God, and he told me he was not through with David yet," said Vera Jacobs, his grandmother. "David's got too much to give. He's got too much to offer this world. David is going to live."

After three weeks in a hospital and more than a month of rehab, David was up and moving again. Now he wakes up every morning at 7:30 to work out with his old strength coach and a couple of friends. They jog at least two miles, lift weights, occasionally square off on the basketball court.

"My day doesn't go right unless I do it," Jacobs said.

Just as important, he reclaimed his mind. Sure, some words are more difficult to say, but he pleads for patience and always gets through it. It's a little harder to concentrate, but he's back in school and on course to earn his degree next summer.

"I am blessed to be here for another year, to see my family, my friends, this team," Jacobs said.

He would have been a senior this season, playing on a defensive line that includes David Pollack and Johnathan Sullivan, two of the best in the country at their positions.

Ahh, imagine if Jacobs were out there.

"He and Sully, side by side, with Pollack on the end," coach Mark Richt said. "Sometimes, we talk about what might have been."

Jacobs still is involved with the program. At least once a week, he'll sit in on a meeting with the defensive line. He'll be on the field Saturday with the rest of the senior class for their final game at Sanford Stadium.

The No. 5 Bulldogs (10-1) finish the regular season against Georgia Tech, then play in the Southeastern Conference championship game Dec. 7. Georgis is trying to win its first SEC title since 1982.

Jacobs can only wonder what might have been.

"I'm happy for them," he said. "But it's very tough. I want to be out there with my friends."

Jacobs' life changed forever after a practice Nov. 14, 2001. He plopped down in the training room, bothered by a severe headache. Soon the team's medical staff realized something was wrong.

Jacobs struggled to understand why his body wasn't working like it had before. Doctors were stunned that a 22-year-old man could have a stroke.

"I remember it," Jacobs said, gazing off into the distance. "I just remember that day."

He doesn't go any deeper. No need to. The pain in his eyes tells it all.

Jacobs credits his grandmother - the woman he calls "momma" - for helping him cope with the realization that his football career was over. She never cried in front of her grandson, always encouraging him to stay positive and get on with his new life. Not that she didn't shed a few tears in private.

"It still hurts," Vera Jacobs said. "He still should be out there on that field."

David is majoring in consumer economics, but he leaning toward coaching as a way to stay connected to the game he loves so much. Already this fall, he helped out with the team at the local middle school.

"I've still got so much energy inside me," Jacobs said. "That was a way to give it back to the kids."

His grandmother knows that football is never far from his thoughts.

"He's throwing himself into so many other things, but they're all related to football," she said. "Football is still in him, even though he can't play it. I'm trying to get him to throw his energy into something else.

"There's life after football. There's nothing he can do about football now. There is something he can do about the future. He's trying to figure out which way he wants to go."

His former teammates are inspired by the journey so far. Pollack writes "99" - Jacobs' old number - on his wrist band before every game.

Everyone remembers Jacobs as a guy who was a bit undersized to play on the defensive line but made up for it with determination.

"The coaches can tell you whatever they want, but you've got to see the example," Pollack said. "D.J. was the example for me. He played low, he played quickly, he had great hands, and he went hard every down."

Jacobs won't be in uniform for the SEC championship game, but he's still inspiring those who used to line up beside him.

"It would be nice to get him a ring," Pollack said. "He's still part of this team."