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Adam Nissley: Comeback trail begins
258 WEB Nissley
Adam Nissley works out after a second knee surgery. - photo by John McWilliams

SUWANEE — Adam Nissley glances at the flat screen TV showing a rerun of Game 2 of the NCAA College Baseball World Series while he pedals on a stationary bike.

The Atlanta Falcons Physical Therapy Center is quiet except for the baseball commentary and the brief instruction physical therapist Lauren Carter gives. The center is spacious with pictures of Atlanta Falcons’ players adorning the white walls, while workout machines and training tables are placed neatly in a row.

"It’s hot outside there," said Nissley, 25, using a hand to brush his brown, wavy hair off his face. "I kind of think about if I didn’t get hurt and weren’t in here, I’d still be out there on the field right now in 100-degree heat playing football."

The 6-foot-6, 267-pounder, is unfortunately all too familiar with the scene.

The former South Forsyth and University of Central Florida tight end tore his ACL, MCL and meniscus in his left knee after a defender collided with him following a 16-yard pass during the first preseason game of the season for the Falcons against the Baltimore Ravens on Aug. 9.

"The first one, I knew something bad was wrong," he said. "I never had felt that before and I got up and I had my adrenalin going because I caught my first NFL pass and all of a sudden I look down and my knee’s all wobbly. I felt like it could just buckle, so I knew I had to get off the field.

"When you tear something as severe and as important as your ACL, you know for sure. It’s a different feeling than anything you’ve ever felt before."

The injuries were season-ending and left Nissley a free agent.

The Falcons usually require players to rehab at the Flowery Branch location, where the team conducts most of its practices. However, since Nissley lives with his brother, Evan, in Braselton, he was allowed to do physical therapy in Suwanee.

Nissley was invited to join the team during the summer after completing the rehab process to compete for a tight end spot, but 10 months after his first knee surgery, he needed another. This time it was his right knee.

He ran a few yards straight, gave a head-fake to the right to shake the linebacker before cutting left, and then it happened. Nissley fell to the ground, tearing his ACL and suffered a micro-fracture in his right knee during Falcons’ training camp in early June.

"I knew it happened," Nissley said. "I was sitting there, like, not again. I had this feeling and foresaw everything that I had to done in [my left] leg and was doing it all again [with my right leg].

"I walked off the field and I walked over to the trainer and I told him I tore my other [knee]. He did a diagnostic on me, but I pretty much knew what had happened. He was trying to keep me positive before we got the MRI…but I knew."

Serious injuries used to be foreign to Nissley. While at UCF, he guided the Knights to a school-best 11 wins in 2010 with 465 receiving yards and two touchdowns on 38 catches.

Prior to signing an undrafted free-agent deal with Atlanta last season, he had never had anything more than a few bumps and bruises. Even after a helmet-to-helmet collision with a linebacker at UCF that broke his facemask and cracked his helmet, he was unharmed.

"I only had some minor things," Nissley said. "I was held out of one practice in college for a precautionary concussion…but that’s it. I got some banged-up issues, but as my coaches have always told me, there’s a difference between being hurt and being injured. Being hurt happens, but being injured you can’t play."

Evan Blackburn has been the clinical director at the Physical Therapy Center for six years and has overseen Nissley’s rehab process. Blackburn said while there’s a greater chance of a future knee injury after suffering a previous injury, that he’s impressed with how much Nissley has improved.

"Adam’s a strong hard worker," Blackburn said. "He’s made an exceptional stride to get back. If he rehabs correctly and passes, there should be no issue [with him playing football].

"Tearing the ACL is fairly common. This past week the Eagles’ [Jason Phillips] and the lineman for the Bronco’s [Dan Koppen] tore their ACLs. It can be a non-contact injury…and it usually takes nine months before you’re ready [to play again]."

Former South head coach and current Camden County offensive coordinator Greg Slattery said the talent Nissley possessed at the tight end position in high school was "outstanding." Slattery wasn’t the only one who felt that way, as Nissley was named to the All-State Honorable Mention team in 2006 by the Associated Press.

"He was a devastating blocker and had great hands," Slattery said. "He was a great leader and one of the best I could have asked for. He had the best morale and was just a tremendous kid.

"He’s a tough kid. If he wants to do something, he’ll do it. He can do what it takes to get back."

Even with his horrible luck, Nissley remains confident he has what it takes to make it back out on the football field for the 2014 season.

"I know [injuries] happen to everybody," Nissley said. "I’ve come in here the last two years and have seen kids who’ve had a way worse go of it. …I encourage all of these kids to keep working because if you want something bad enough…you can overcome a lot.

"I wouldn’t be who I am today if it weren’t [for the injuries]. I’ve still been blessed to make it this far. I don’t look back and think my NFL career as a failure at all. I’m still pretty optimistic about my future playing football in the NFL. I’m working hard every day in here just like I did last time.

"I’m going to fight to make the team again next year. …I don’t know what will happen, but whatever my football career entails, I’m just fortunate to have made it this far. A lot of other kids can’t say that, so I can’t complain about it too much."