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Former Northern Illinois RB Clint Ratkovich Recovery Process

Detailing Clint Ratkovich's tumultuous NFL Draft process and his work towards recovery from an ACL injury.

The news makes you cringe.

It is the absolute worst-case scenario for any prospect going through the NFL Draft process. Endless hours of preparation and dedication to their craft are put on hiatus when an untimely injury occurs.

Rookie camp, OTAs and mandatory minicamp were all opportunities former Northern Illinois fullback Clint Ratkovich has been robbed of after tearing his ACL on April 8 at the Green Bay Packers’ Pro Day only weeks prior to the draft.

“I was in shock when it first happened,” said Ratkovich after the injury. “It took me about an hour to realize the severity of the injury and start thinking about what’s next. After that hour and I learned exactly what it was, I started to plan out what was ahead for me.

“I talked with the Packers doctors, and they helped me get set up with a great surgeon and plan the next steps. Within an hour and a half of getting hurt, I was already starting to map out how I can get back.”

If you know Ratkovich, it comes as no surprise that he was precisely preparing for the next step immediately after getting the horrific news that he would have to press the pause button on his football career in the middle of his draft-eligible season.

During a pre-draft interview following the East-West Shrine Bowl with Ratkovich, I became aware of the mental makeup that helps facilitate him to be such a detailed and versatile player.

“I take my pride in how I prepare myself and how I get ready day to day,” said Ratkovich. “Offseason, in season it is just how I handle myself. That is where I try to separate myself. It’s easy to say that you can play a lot of positions, but it’s hard to say you can play them really well.”

Ratkovich doesn’t half-ass things.

Think 49ers Kyle Juszczyk when visualizing comparisons for Ratkovich at the professional level. His bio via the Northern Illinois athletics page mentions he was one of the MVPs of the 2021 MAC Championship team as a rusher, receiver, blocker, special-teams contributor (returns and tackles) and third- and fourth-down specialist. He also played some wildcat in college.

A graduate of Western Illinois prior to NIU with degree in engineering technology, Ratkovich is one well-versed goal-oriented individual.

That attention to detail and drive to be the best contributes to his speedy road to recovery after his April ACL tear. He is not going to skip a session and sacrifice a chance to be at his absolute best.

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“Rehab has been going great,” said Ratkovich. “I just had a checkup with the doctor, and everything looks perfect. I am ahead of schedule on basically all aspects of the recovery. From what the doctors are saying, I should be 100 percent and ready to play sometime this October.”

The work from now until October will change as he progresses in his rehab. Under normal circumstances, Ratkovich would have been learning a different playbook and getting acquainted with new teammates, but the injury has led him down another path.

“A normal day for me consists of waking up early and getting some sort of cardio in,” said Ratkovich. “Right now, I am limited to what I can do so I stick to the bike, elliptical, stair master and some swimming.

“Then later in the day I will do my physical therapy followed up by a trip to the gym for weightlifting. I’ve been lifting/conditioning six days a week throughout these first few months. I want to make sure I can maintain the level of training I was doing pre-injury so that I will be strong and fast when I am ready to return to play.”

Ratkovich has been playing football since he was a toddler. He began playing in third grade in a small-town league with his older (14 months) brother Shane. Those early days of pee-wee football have led to a lifetime bond between brothers, especially after the injury.

“My brother has always been there my whole life to help me along the way,” said Ratkovich. “When I told him I was injured, he was as devastated as I was. Like myself, he started to think of the steps to take to get me back healthy. He pushes me every day to stay on track and keep progressing.”

Midway through the upcoming season, Ratkovich will be able to begin auditioning for NFL teams searching for a multi-talented player who can occupy more than one position. The versatility he possesses should provide ample opportunities to get signed.

Until then, Ratkovich is going to continue to do what he always does best: Work.

“Life isn’t as easy as it seems,” said Ratkovich. “The injury happened at possibly the worst time it could have, but really opened my eyes. Football is a tough sport and things like this are to be expected to happen.

“I can say that going through this has made me embrace the grind. Getting back hasn’t been easy, but I love a good challenge. I will be back, and who doesn’t love a good comeback story.”

Everyone also loves a fairy-tale ending.

Accomplishing the dream of playing in the National Football League would be the perfect (real-life) novel for Ratkovich.