If it were up to Elijah Staley, he would be preparing to take the court with Mississippi State against Auburn in the opening round of the SEC Tournament in Nashville tonight.
Instead the two-sport athlete is continuing rehab on his surgically repaired knee.
Just as Staley began his transition to hardwood after redshirting his freshman football season, a nagging injury from high school resurfaced requiring surgery and ending his basketball season before it even began.
“It was hard because it was a shock,” Staley said. “My knee was hurting and I’ve always had knee problems. I went and got an MRI and they told me my patella tendon was torn. It had already happened so I had to get surgery for the first time. It sucks but it’s something I’m going to have to deal with.”
Rick Ray and Dan Mullen had arranged a partnership between their respective teams to share Staley’s services. Staley was to practice football while the basketball team was on the road during the month of December.
Staley had just started alternating practices with the basketball team along with preparing for the Orange Bowl when the results of an MRI revealed his preexisting injury.
With the turn of events, Staley is now uncertain if he will attempt to juggle both sports moving forward.
“That’s a conversation coach Mullen, coach Ray and I will have to have in the future,” Staley said. “(Mullen) might not be too big on me playing anymore because of the injuries.”
Even during his first few practices, Staley could already tell college basketball was going to be more of a challenge than he anticipated. The 6-foot-6, 231-pounder was a three-star prospect in both sports and was a first team All-State hoops selection at Georgia Class 6A powerhouse Wheeler High School.
Staley averaged 18 points and 9.5 rebounds per game as a junior and was recruited by Ray as strictly a basketball prospect.
“There was a lot more running in college than it is in high school,” Staley said. “All of the players are good and I wasn’t the best player on the team. I’d gained weight so I wasn’t jumping as well as I was. It was really hard. I had started to get better and then my knee just stopped it all.”
The southpaw signal caller had some adjustments to make on the gridiron as well when he arrived last summer. Staley was suspended indefinitely from his high school football team five games into his senior year and had to knock off some rust once fall camp began last August.
Staley credited quarterbacks coach Brian Johnson with getting his throwing motion back on track and Dak Prescott with aiding his knowledge of Mullen’s sophisticated playbook.
“It was pretty hard when I first got here,” Staley said. “I had to learn the playbook and that was a whole other level for me. But it was fun looking up to Dak and working behind him. Obviously he is a good role model to have. He taught me a lot and I feel like I progressed a lot throughout the season.”
Staley, along with fellow true freshman Nick Fitzgerald, dressed for all 13 of the Bulldogs games last fall but did not see action.
Doctors estimate Staley to be back at full strength by the summer. He is expected to throw from a chair during spring practice, which begins on March 18.