The club’s second-round pick in 2011, Ijalana tore the ACL in his left knee at Tampa Bay in the fourth outing of his rookie season.
Exiled to his home area in New Jersey, he spent most of the season away from his teammates.
In training camp last year, Ijalana suffered the same injury in the first drill.
This one cut deeper.
“This first time it wasn’t that emotional. I didn’t realize the defender had tangled his legs with mine. In my mind, I remembered setting and falling,” said Ijalana. “The second time, it was rough. The emotional part was when I had to tell my parents. I’m a pretty confident guy. I’m bold. I have very few problems doing things. It turns out I’m not good at telling my parents bad news.
“I woke up from surgery in August, and my mom, who’s a nurse, was there. I looked at her and said, ‘Day one.’ It’s been seven months, one week and four days and a few hours since I went under. Life goes on, I’m excited. I’ve literally been gone (from Indianapolis) 10 days. I have a good support crew (here).”
The non-contact injury was a blow, but Ijalana is running and rehabbing. He hopes to get work in before training camp. Whenever it comes, he will do things the very same way.
“The second injury was bizarre because I did OTAs and going to camp and getting hurt on the first drill…,” said Ijalana. “I took a step I’ve taken 1,000 times and hundreds of times after the first ACL injury. I’m going to continue taking it. It is what it is. I know it happens. It just happened to RG III. How many times do you think he’s taken a dropback in his life? That’s how it happened. Life goes on. You keep growing.”
Ijalana is grateful for the opportunity. He is on his second head coach, his third offense and his second general manager, Ryan Grigson, a former offensive lineman.
“I’m still here, which is huge,” said Ijalana. “Had Mr. Grigson wanted to, we could have parted ways. He wants to see what you can do. You can ask for a lot of things in life and you won’t get them. If someone gives you an opportunity, that’s more than enough.”
Ijalana is a positive presence, and he notes he is not alone in his efforts to bounce back from a second severe knee injury.
“You never want to look at a person’s misfortunes. You want to look at their successes,” said Ijalana. “There are multiple-tear guys in the league. Thomas Davis of Carolina has had three, and he was second on their team in tackles last year. I don’t get discouraged much. It’s not productive. You can get bummed out (if you want). Not me.”
Ijalana has teammates on whom to lean, but his outlook is a product of his home environment.
“I grew up in a house of five kids where there were no excuses,” said Ijalana. “My father, Festus, is an inspector for the state of New Jersey. My mom, Elizabeth, is a nurse. My parents were immigrants from Nigeria, and we are first-generation children here. I think back for them (and what they did).
“This is nothing. This is football. It’s a challenge. It’s my job, and I’ve been blessed to have it. I just want to get on the field. I’m trying to be a part of it. I want in with my friends like
Ijalana said the key is not to let the injury get mental. Those who do, he says, are the ones who do not succeed.
“You can’t think about it. You’re going to get yourself hurt,” said Ijalana. “You have to do things without thinking about it. You can see the guys who are thinking. Those are the guys who are getting driven back, guys who run wrong routes, miss the catch, miss the tackle. This could have happened in college, and I wouldn’t even be here. You take it for what it’s worth.
“When it comes to football, I’ll never be a ‘What if’ guy. This is my ‘What if.’ I’m here. I want to be a ‘You remember when’ guy. I have a camp. There are some guys on the street who are praying they get a camp. The dice doesn’t roll in their favor. I’ll take it any day of the week.”