AUBURN, Ala. — When Jeremiah Dinson arrived home in Miami for spring break one of the first stops he made was a park near his home.
With his dad Theodore looking on, Dinson and his brother, Joshua, went through some speed work, a normal pastime for the siblings.
As Theodore Dinson watched his oldest son lean and propel himself through the ladder on the ground, he saw what Auburn defensive coordinator Kevin Steele and Jeremiah’s Tigers teammates witnessed through the first weeks of spring practice: Aside from the scar on his right knee, Dinson appeared strong and confident — fully back from the gruesome injuries that ended his freshman season.
While the Dinsons are grateful for Jeremiah’s health, those closest to him aren’t shocked. A strong return is what Jeremiah said he would make after the worst injury of his athletic career.
“He’s always been strong mentally and he’s always been strong as far as his body goes,” Theodore said. “To hear these things, I’m not surprised. We’re a very religious family, so you can imagine prayers went up for him left and right, every day. Whether it was a text or something, letting him know God has a purpose for him, he just had to stay focused.”
Outside of a few bumps and bruises along the way, Jeremiah stayed healthy since he started playing football.
“The one time he got hurt I believe he was 6 years old and his team was going to their Super Bowl that year,” Theodore said. “I asked him, ‘How are you feeling?’ The game was that Saturday and I think that Friday he said, ‘Dad, I’m going to be able to go. I’m good.’ ”
Jeremiah Dinson’s horrific injuries
Theodore and his son had a similar conversation in 2015, after Jeremiah took a horrific hit from Texas A&M wide receiver Ricky Seals-Jones.
This time, however, Jeremiah had three torn ligaments in his right knee, which also was dislocated; and dislocated left shoulder. There was grave concern about whether Dinson would play football again.
“I try to be honest with my son, I’ve never played at a high level like him,” Theodore said. “So I don’t know what it feels like to have everything and get it all taken away in one play. I just tried to be as supportive as possible, but he was always steadfast and firm. He would always say, ‘Dad, I’m going to get through this. Don’t worry, dad, I’m going to bounce back.” Not saying it was always easy, because it wasn’t.”
To get through hours of rehab and more than a year of watching from the sideline, Jeremiah relied on what helped him land at Auburn in the first place: his work ethic and attitude.
As a freshman at Miami Norland High School in 2014, Jeremiah played on the junior varsity team. When the varsity team made the playoffs he was the only younger player called up for the postseason.
“He was always an athletic kid,” said Anthony White, Jeremiah’s high school coach. “But it wasn’t because of his athletic ability because we had a bunch of kids with athletic ability. It was a combination of his ability and his grades. He was doing well in school, hadn’t been in trouble, hadn’t been disciplined by an administrator or anything like that.”
Jeremiah capitalized on the opportunity and won the starting job. A few games later, the Vikings won a state championship.
Standout among stars
By the time he was a senior (at American High School), Jeremiah had established himself as a star. He played defensive back, wide receiver, returned punts — showing that even in the hotbed of athletes in the Miami area, he was special.
“He’s a perfectionist, that’s the word I’d use to describe him,” White said. “He’s super fast, deceptively fast. You don’t think he’s that fast when you line up next to him, but then he’s running by you and then you realize … he’s fast.”
While he was important on the field, Jeremiah’s presence also was critical in the locker room, where as captain he was a role model for younger players.
“He was always one of those guys who was really focused on what he wanted to accomplish,” said Anthony White Jr., who was a year younger than Jeremiah. “He was hardworking and always motivated us younger guys, trying to help us do whatever it took to be great. Just focus on our craft.”
Jeremiah’s desire to be great continued during his freshman season at Auburn.
Anthony, who now plays wide receiver at Washington State, stayed in touch as the season approached and Jeremiah’s excitement intensified. Jeremiah told Anthony he felt good about camp and thought he’d stood out.
When Josh Holsey tore an ACL during Auburn’s second game of the 2015 season — this one, in his right knee, was the second of his college career — Jeremiah’s name was called more often.
“He was one of the best guys coming in,” Holsey said. “If I didn’t get hurt those guys might not have gotten an opportunity. Everything happens for a reason. I felt like me getting hurt was an opportunity for those young guys to get in that light and get some of that shine, an opportunity to play in big games.”
Staying strong in adversity
Even after his injuries in early November, Jeremiah maintained his positive attitude. After Auburn defeated the Aggies 26-10 in College Station, Jeremiah posted tweets expressing his appreciation for the support and his burning intention to make a full recovery.
God got me. I believe in his plan. Thanks for all the prayers. Hard body. 20 gone be alright ?
— Jeremiah Dinson 3⃣ (@New_EraJD3) November 8, 2015
“When I talked to him after the injury he said he’d be back on the field soon,” Anthony said. “It was always dedication to come back and be at full strength, he would never dwell on it. He always just concentrated on, ‘OK, this is where I need to be’ and just focused on getting healthy.”
Still, there were trying times. In those moments, Jeremiah had a strong support system and people in almost every direction he could turn to for advice.
“I don’t think you could point at one person,” Theodore said. “Coach (Gus) Malzahn had to instill something in him as far as working, The team doctor, Dr. (James) Andrews, did a great job. Along with that Jeremiah had support from coaches and teammates. He has a lot of friends on the team, all those guys believed in him.”
Along with a crew of Davises (Javaris Davis, Ryan Davis and Carlton Davis) and Tray Matthews, Jeremiah also had Holsey, who knew exactly what he was going through. Dinson and Holsey spoke often, with Hosley reassuring Jeremiah he’d be fine.
“He’s a young guy, but he’s going to be good,” Holsey said. “I told him he can’t think about that knee. You can’t come back thinking you’re going to get hurt again, you just have to play. And I don’t think he’ll have any issue with that. He has great people around him. He talks to me a lot, I still talk to him a lot, keep him right. He’ll get out here in spring, get a little contact. When you get that contact a few times you don’t really think about it anymore.”
That seems to be how the first two weeks of Auburn’s spring practices played out. According to Steele, Dinson already is a leading candidate to replace Rudy Ford at nickel. That possibility has Malzahn, Steele, Auburn’s defense and the Dinsons eager to see him back on the field in Jordan-Hare Stadium in April.
“I can’t say I’m really surprised,” Theodore said. “Jeremiah is a hard worker. All his life he’s been playing at a high level. If you get to that level everyone is good. It just comes down to your work ethic, and he always gives 110 percent.
“As a parent you just want your kid to be able to follow his dreams,” Theodore said. “Now I’m watching him get back on his feet. We’re thankful. I’m just excited to watch him play again.”