For months, JoJo Domann was a man with no name. While the rest of his teammates got a chance to show their new coaches what they could do, the sophomore safety was working in the shadows, rehabbing from consecutive ACL tears. Life was tough.
“It wasn’t easy. Coach Fish [defensive backs coach Travis Fisher] didn’t even know my name for the first couple of months he was here,” Domann said. “I remember he did give me a call, but besides that he’s focusing on the guys that can do something for him in spring ball. So having to go through that adversity of my position coaching and just like the staff in general, they're going to pay attention to the guys that can do something for them right there and then. So I was kind of in the shadows but honestly that’s where I liked to be. It allowed me to focus on myself, on everything I was dealing with.”
Domann played in every game as a true freshman, recording eight tackles on special teams.
Then, during spring ball, he tore his ACL for the first time. His surgery was on April 12, 2017. The injury kept him out of the rest of spring ball, fall camp and the entire 2017 season. After seven months of rehab, Domann was cleared for noncontact activites. For the sophomore from Colorado Springs, Colorado, that included basketball.
The 6-foot-1, 225-pound linebacker was playing pick-up basketball in the rec center on campus and went up for a layup. He came back down and tore the ACL a second time. His surgery was on Nov. 6, 2017.
“When an injury like that happens to you, there are so many emotions,” Domann said. “You’re taken away from football; I couldn't play last year. I was really just focused on my knee and getting back on the football field. Then when it was taken away from me the second time, I tore my ACL again, it was on me. It was about me becoming the person I wanted to be, becoming the man I wanted to be that fits into the football field.”
After the second injury, Domann took a moment to re-evaluate things.
“Honestly, it was a mindset thing,” Domann said. “Physically, it takes time to come back from injuries like that, but it’s really in between the ears. Just the way I attacked my second rehab was completely different from the way I attacked my first rehab.”
Whatever he did, the coaches took notice. No longer was he a player without a name.
“I remember the day that Coach Chins [defensive coordinator Erik Chinanader] said my name for the first time,” Domann said. “It had been a couple weeks into spring ball. I’m not doing anything, I’m not really worth much … He just said, ‘What’s up, JoJo?’ I remember I called my dad and I was like, ‘Hey, the D-coordinator knows my name; I know that now.’ Because I didn’t know that for the [first] three months they were here … Just knowing that he knew my names was like a stepping stone at that point.”
Now in “hands down” the best shape of his life, both physically and spiritually, Domann has impressed the coaches enough to crack the two-deep at safety ahead of the 2018 season opener against Akron.
“Very very pleasant surprise just the way he’s played in camp and up until now,” Chinander said. “He’s done a great job and I think he’s going to help the team … He brings a safety that’s No. 1 a physical safety. He brings a guy that can play on special teams. He also brings a guy that you can play in multiple positions against a spread outfit. He can play some linebacker, he can play some safety, he can play some outside linebacker and he can do a lot of those jobs. He’s fairly football savvy so he can handle a lot of those assignments.”
Domann said he’s been working some at dime and at nickel linebacker, which he called their “cinco.” Domann just sees himself as a playmaker.
“I envision myself making plays on Saturdays, making plays during the week, earning trust from the coaches and then just being able to play the game I love on Saturday,” Domann said.
He’s already started making those plays in practice.
“I made a couple plays, but none of them had an exclamation point after them until I had an 87-yard pick-six the last day of fall camp and I think that was kind of the icing on top,” Domann said.
The other players in that defensives backs room are fired up to see him flying around as well.
“It’s exciting,” junior corner Lamar Jackson said. “JoJo was my roommate when he first came in, so I just know how much he loved football and stuff like that. Every time he was getting hurt, I just felt for him. Just seeing him out there, not losing a step and just really being better than he was before he left is kind of just inspiring. I never went through something like he did. He’s handling it pretty well, so shout out to JoJo.”
Throughout all the adversity he’s faced during his young career, Domann’s desire to play football never wavered.
“It’s been great,” Fisher said. “All this has been great with JoJo. He’s come in and he approaches the game the right way. One tough thing about JoJo is him being patient, being patient with his injury and not trying to push that thing. When it was time for him to come back in and play, he was all in. He’s been all in. I just pulled him in the office yesterday and told him how great he was doing and stay with it and keep on pushing, keep on pushing because he’s getting better.”
Everything Domann has gone through has only served to deepen his love for football.
“I was brought down just to come back up even stronger, even greater than before,” Domann said. “I appreciate the game of football, I appreciate practice every day, I appreciate weight lifting, I appreciate the meetings just so much more than I did as a true freshman when I was just thrown into the storm.”
On Saturday, after 17 months away from the game, Domann is going to be thrown back out into that storm against the Akron Zips.
Jacob is in his third year with Hail Varsity covering Husker athletics. He has also written extensively for SB Nation’s Bright Side of the Sun and The Creightonian. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.