The last three months have been like a blur for
— so much
so that he scarcely has time to reflect upon how far he has come in such
a short period of time.
Ninety days ago, the 6-foot-5, 260-pound offensive lineman from Fountain Valley (Calif.)
didn't know if he'd ever be able to play football again.
Now, he is once again among Southern California's top recruits at his
position and his future seems as bright as it did before the fateful
day when he survived what could just as easily have been a fatal
While driving to campus for a pregame meal before the Barons' season
finale against Marina (Huntington Beach) on Nov. 2, Hinnant was a
few blocks from campus when a truck hit his car on the driver's side,
denting the door more than 2 feet in and leaving Hinnant with a fractured
pelvis, a fractured tailbone and brain contusions.
He was transported
by ambulance to UC Irvine Medical Center and spent three weeks in the
hospital. A metal plate was used to realign his hip. He returned to
school in early December with renewed energy, determined not to let the
incident impair his chances of playing college football. See our National Signing Day 2013 page
Hinnant's outstanding play as a three-star senior had drawn offers from
Oregon, Nebraska, Arizona, Colorado, Duke, Harvard, Nevada, Oregon
State, San Diego State and Washington State, but ever since he talked
to Cal assistant Tony Franklin, the Golden Bears were high on his list.
That didn't change even after head coach Jeff Tedford was fired Dec. 5
and replaced by Louisiana Tech offensive mastermind Sonny Dykes, who
continued to recruit him vigorously, even after the accident.
official visit to Strawberry Canyon last week clinched the decision for the Barons' senior, who described Cal's staff as "unbelievably supportive" throughout his ordeal.
"I was so impressed that they kept calling to check up on me and cared
about my well-being," Hinnant said. "They never once even hinted that
they didn't still want me. They've had faith in me from day one and
that's one reason I'm working so hard to get back out there."
On Saturday, Hinnant said he expected to be fully cleared to run and
lift weights on Monday. So it is with both relief and excitement that
Hinnant will sign his National Letter of Intent to the University of
California, Berkeley, at lunchtime Wednesday in the Fountain Valley
High gym, thus marking the end of one chapter in his life and the
beginning of a new one.
"I can't wait -- I can't wait to sign, I can't wait to get up there and
I can't wait to start playing football," Hinnant said. "Cal is a
perfect fit. I got a chance to meet the coaches and players and visit
the facilities and the dorms and the whole experience was awesome."
Although he admitted going back and forth on the Super Bowl, Hinnant
finally decided he should root for the 49ers since the Bay Area will
soon be his new home: "The NFL player I've most admired is Michael Oher but I also like to watch [San Francisco defensive end] Aldon Smith.
Everyone dreams of playing in the Super Bowl one day and it would be
amazing if that ever happened, but right now I'm just trying to stay
positive and work my tail off to earn my spot at Cal."
John Shipp, who was Hinnant's head coach all four years at Fountain
Valley, believes he has what it takes to dominate at the next level.
Even as a ninth-grader, Hinnant showed potential beyond his age and a
desire to impact the program right away.
"We knew that J.D. was special when he was a freshman in the weight
room," Shipp recollected. "I told him I thought he was ready to start as
a sophomore and he just said 'Alright, coach.' To be a 15-year-old
playing varsity in the Pac-5 Division is very unusual. At our school,
players as tough mentally and physically as J.D. are few and far
between. He's double-jointed in his knees which allows him to do
Hinnant was promoted to captain as a junior and he embraced the
leadership role both on the field and in the classroom.
accident, Shipp left it up to the players whether or not to cancel the
game that night, but Hinnant's teammates insisted their captain
would've wanted them to play. So with signs of No. 76 (Hinnant's jersey
number) posted all over the stadium, the Barons played inspired and at
the end of the game they lined up in victory formation with only 10
players, as Hinnant's spot on the line of scrimmage was left vacant in
"I'm convinced that I'll be watching J.D. on Saturdays," Shipp said.
"His intelligence is what sets him apart. Yes, he'll be going up
against guys who are as big, as fast and as strong, but he has great
technique, great balance and he understands the game so well. That's
what'll give him an advantage."
Shipp is also proud of Hinnant's college choice because he knows it will prepare him for life after football.
"I see him every day on campus now, he's working out, he's doing great
therapy and he's a nominee for the North-South All-Star Game," Shipp
said. "I'd like to see him play in that to give him some live action
before heading up to Cal. He was getting letters from all the Ivy
[League] schools and most of the Pac-12s. At our banquet I told J.D.
that at the end of the day it's about that piece of paper [diploma] you
get at the end, so choose based on the future, not just on how good the
football team is right now."
He may not remember much about the accident that changed his life in an instant, but Hinnant can recall with vivid detail his fondest high school football memory:
"It was my very first play on varsity back when I was a sophomore. We
ran a counter play, I was pulling and I knocked the stuffing out of the
other team's linebacker."
Hinnant would spend the next three seasons inflicting similar pain on
any opposing player who tried to bullrush him on a pass play or slip by him
to tackle the running back. Few succeeded. Most ended up on their backs
at the sound of the whistle.
"I've always been a positive person, that's the attitude I always
have," Hinnant said. "I'd say my best attributes are my intelligence
and my quickness. Right after the accident was hard but my family,
classmates, teachers, coaches, teammates, they came to visit me. Everyone was so encouraging
and it made a big difference. It made me stronger."
An outstanding student with a 3.75 GPA and 1860 SAT score (another
reason he feels right at home going to an academically challenging
university), Hinnant has but two goals as a Cal football player: to be
a four-year starter and to be a scholar athlete. He hopes to be fully
healthy when he reports to Berkeley June 28.
"I sure hope I can," Hinnant said. "I'm working my tail off to be ready when I get there and I think I will."