Antone Exum claims he didn’t start it. The rehabbing Virginia Tech cornerback was simply responding to some Twitter trash talk from Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins, a friendly back-and-forth rekindled from a month ago.
“The other day, some fans on Twitter added me and said he had posted some pictures, and one of the captions said, ‘This guy, LOL.’ I knew that it was directed at me, but he didn’t @ me in it,” Exum said. “But that still doesn’t fly. I still see it. And the fans told me about it, so I had to respond.”
“The next day, I get on Twitter and they added me and I saw the picture and I died,” Exum said. “I was in rehab and I couldn’t even focus anymore. So I had to add him and show it to him.”
Twitter wars aside, Exum is keeping himself busy with his rehab, which he says is ahead of schedule. Tuesday was nine weeks removed from surgery on his right knee for a torn anterior cruciate ligament, torn meniscus and bone fracture. He’s started running on an anti-gravity machine called the AlterG and on an underwater treadmill, building back strength.
Does that mean he’ll be ready for Alabama? He thinks so, although he hasn’t received an official timetable for returning to football activities.
“We’re just kind of taking it week-by-week,” he said.
He’s taken in spring practices as a spectator, trying to set up his rehab schedule so he can be present to take mental reps, usually a few steps away from defensive coordinator Bud Foster or defensive backs coach Torrian Gray.
“He’s not wasting time with his injury,” Gray said. “Mentally, he’s having a better time understanding what’s going on. That’s going to help him when he gets back.”
“It’s real difficult [to watch],” Exum said. “I try to make the most of it by just being a student of the game and getting mental reps and coaching the younger the guys. But I’m a performer, so I want to get out there and play with the guys. But it will come in time.”
Exum’s main focus has been on his rehab, though. He’s been in Blacksburg for the last three to four weeks but has another trip soon coming up to the Andrews Institute for Orthopedics & Sports Medicine in Penascola, Fla., where he had the surgery done in late January by Dr. James Andrews.
Andrews has been on the cutting edge of ACL surgeries for years, bringing down the rehab time significantly.
“It’s not like 20-30 years ago when the injury was the end of guys’ careers,” Exum said. “I think just where they’re at medically and with the technology they have now, that’s what’s causing guys to come back faster than before. … It wasn’t that guy couldn’t recover. It was just the time period. It was taking a year, two, three. But now, guys can come back in months.”
Exum used to lie in bed late at night, Googling players who were coming back from ACL injuries. He stopped, though, the more he learned that all ACL tears aren’t the same. The only thing similar in Vikings running back Adrian Peterson‘s injury, for instance, is the ACL tear itself. He didn’t have the meniscus tear and bone fracture that Exum did.
Exum’s injury is actually the same one suffered by New York Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis (a strange coincidence, considering the title of Exum’s YouTube rap debut in November, “Revis”). Revis has worked with Brett Fischer of Fischer Sports Training in Arizona. Exum is considering doing the same, depending on where he’s at in his rehab this summer.
In the meantime, he’s focused on his work in Blacksburg, taking occasional breaks to stir things up on Twitter. Who gets more hateful tweets: defensive end James Gayle from Florida State fans or Exum from Clemson fans?
“That’s a good question,” Exum said. “Florida State fans were jumping in and talking trash to him for what I was doing with Sammy, and they don’t even have anything to do with it. I was like, ‘Where do y’all fit in this?’ But I might say Clemson, because they were coming at my head. I stood tall, though.”
Exum is holding out hope that Tech and Clemson, who don’t play in the regular season, can meet in the ACC championship game.
“I’m expecting them to throw my way at least 50 times that game if we play them,” he said.