Fifteen months ago, Princeton Fant heard his right knee pop.
One wrong step during a 7-on-7 practice turned Fant’s football future upside down.
The pain was instant. The shock lasted a little bit longer.
Doctors immediately told the LaVergne (Tenn.) receiver he’d torn his “anterior cruciate ligament,” and Fant was mostly confused.
“I didn’t know what it was,” he said.
“Then my coaches told me it was my ACL and that was (devastating). It hurt a lot because I’d heard that ACL (injuries) could be career-ending sometimes. But I’m blessed enough to not have that occur.”
Fant is healthy now, and the Tennessee commit is hungry to prove why the Vols remained loyal to a kid with a serious knee injury and minimal high school production.
Last week, the 3-star prospect was back on the gridiron, “nagging on people” during a 7-on-7 tournament with his LaVernge teammates.
“My knee feels great,” Fant said.
“I was catching over people, running great routes, cutting. The healing process has been great.”
But the 6-foot-2, 210-pound receiver had a much different feeling when he woke up from his surgery last May.
“When I got out of surgery, my knee was huge. I was like, ‘Oh my goodness. Is my knee ever going to bend again?’” Fant said.
“It was a big volleyball. I really asked my mom, ‘Is my knee every going to bend again?’ But then I got to rehab and they started me on the little things. It was hard. I had to get my range of motion back, the (strength) in my quad back.
“I had to stick through the pain, but it got easier and easier as the process went along.”
But “the process” was long and lonely.
Last fall, instead of practicing alongside his tag-team partner Maleik Gray — a 4-star safety at LaVernge and a fellow Vols commit — Fant was rehabbing three times a week nearly 40 minutes away at D1 Sports Training in Nashville.
The physical rehab was tough. The mental aspect was brutal.
“It’s all mental,” Fant explained.
“You think that you might come back down and it might pop out of place again. That scares you. You don’t want to be in that position no more. But if you think about it too much you’re going to end up hurt again.”
Fant has slowly started to trust his knee more and more, and during the recent 7-on-7 tournament he refused to “let the mental thing get the best” of him.
“I was just blowing everyone’s minds away,” he said.
That’s not surprising.
Fant is a raw prospect but a physical freak. He’s a thick-bodied receiver who can jump (37-inch vertical), run (4.6-second 40-yard dash) and cut on a dime (4.2-second shuttle).
Despite missing his entire junior season, colleges, including Tennessee, country remained interested in the state’s 17th-ranked prospect with just 14 career catches.
Two months before he tore his ACL, Fant received his first scholarship offer from UT. During his arduous rehab, he garnered serious interest from Ole Miss, LSU, Kentucky, Miami and Louisville. Fant ultimately chose to stay in-state, citing coach Butch Jones’ loyal during the injury and recovery process as a major reason he committed to the Vols during ‘Orange Carpet Day’ in June.
Now that his knee feels strong, Fant aims to “knock (his) senior season out with a bang.”
“I’m going to come to Tennessee and do what I got to do to earn a starting position,” he said.
“I can develop into something scary. I know I can.”
All rankings are provided by the 247Sports composite unless otherwise noted.
Jesse Simonton covers Tennessee football and recruiting for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and SECCountry.com