After Chase Young showed promise in return, Markelle Fultz might know what’s next

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As Chase Young rehabbed from his knee injury last season, Orlando Magic guard Markelle Fultz reached out periodically to check on his high school friend. The 24-year-old NBA star had torn his ACL almost a year before the NFL pass-rusher — and so he could relate. And relay a bit of advice. 

Like Young, Fultz took longer to return than some expected. The guard didn’t suit up until 14 months after the injury — almost the same time frame as Young (13 months). 

“Just letting him know to take his time,” Fultz told The Washington Times. “And not to rush.”

Basketball and football are completely different sports — and no one would argue otherwise — but Fultz’s path perhaps offers a guide for what Young may expect as he gets further and further removed from his initial injury. Just this past weekend, Fultz scored 23 points in a loss to the Washington Wizards — marking yet another instance in which the combo guard resembled more and more of his explosive, preinjury form. 

Last season, Fultz logged 18 games upon his return. Those contests served as a launching pad for the guard to shake off the rust and work his way back into the fold. Similarly, Young appeared in the Commanders’ final three games — which provided a valuable opportunity for the former defensive rookie of the year to rediscover his ability.

Fultz made sure to tune in when Young played.

“In the short time he had, he was doing his thing,” said Fultz, who went to DeMatha High with Young. “It was good to see him still have that same hunger, that same fire. Me knowing him, I know that he’s going to get better and better as time goes.” 

Young’s injury, of course, was more complicated than a traditional ACL tear. The edge rusher also ruptured his patellar tendon, requiring Dr. James Andrews to open up Young’s other knee to graft his left patellar tendon and repair his right knee. That led to a lengthy recovery process in which the Commanders waited an additional month for Young to make his season debut, even after he returned to practice in early November. 

But Young looked worth the wait. Though he didn’t record a sack in the final three weeks, the Ohio State product was still productive off the edge with seven pressures. His most impressive play arguably came in his season debut when he snuffed out a 49ers screen and helped teammate James Smith-Williams get the sack on quarterback Brock Purdy.

Earlier this month, Young indicated he was pleased with his progress in the final three games. He said he wanted to “wreak havoc” and feels that he did “some of that. More importantly, Young said he was looking forward to attacking the offseason without having to focus on his knee.

“I’m going to get strong,” Young said, “real strong.”

During their conversations, Fultz never got the sense that Young’s confidence wavered. That, after all, is perhaps Young’s most distinguishing characteristic. At one point prior to his comeback last season, for example, Young answered “Chase Young” when asked what he hoped to add to the defense when healthy. “Chase is always going to be Chase,” Fultz said with a smile.

Still, when the guard would check in, he wanted to make sure Young was in a good place mentally. A lot of people, Fultz said, “don’t understand” all that it takes to come back from a significant injury — both physically and mentally. There are long, grueling days of rehab. 

Over that span, Fultz said he saw Young “listen to his body.” From afar, Fultz understood Young’s eagerness to get back on the field — and the outside pressure to come back — but saw Young embrace the process of “doing whatever it takes” to get back on the field.

“I’m very proud of him for staying resilient,” Fultz said.

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