An ACL tear takes approximately six to nine months to fully recover.
Especially athletes are advised to sit out for an extended period of time before returning from the injury.
Returning just 26 days later and hitting home runs constantly is virtually impossible—unless you are Ole Miss’s Tim Elko.
Elko’s Rebels took the SEC and nation by storm to start the year. After reaching No. 1 in the nation in multiple polls after a three-game sweep in Texas over TCU, Texas Tech, and Texas. Elko started the season in his first 28 games holding a .340 batting average with nine home runs.
His hot beginning to his senior season came to a crushing—and painful—hault.
After hustling down the first base line to beat out a ground ball to second base, an awkward tumble after an errant throw left Elko on the ground in extreme pain.
The Ole Miss captain had torn his ACL.
All that he could think is that his season, and potentially Ole Miss career, was over.
“I’m like, man, my season’s over. I can’t believe this just happened,” Elko said. “I was having probably the best season I’ve had at Ole Miss. Our team was looking so good. Now, I’m not going to be able to help at all and be there for the guys.”
Elko had never been seriously injured during his Ole Miss career to that point. He played in 109 games until the injury. It was unfamiliar territory for the Rebels fifth-year senior captain.
There was never time for Elko to sulk. He began his road to recovery almost immediately.
“Once the doctors told me ‘Hey, you know, there’s a chance you could come back and play with a brace,’ Sometimes it happens, like some people can play with the brace and they make it work and others get the surgery,’ Elko said. “Once they gave me that chance that I could come back, it was full of optimism from there.”
Unbelievably, Elko was available to pinch-hit in a game just 25 days later. With his cross around his neck, Elko knew his faith in God was a large part of his ability to return.
“From that first day, God was really putting peace on my heart. That was really the main reason I came back. That’s how I felt so positive all the time,” Elko said. “I was praying, a lot of my family was praying, and people were praying, and He answered those prayers for healing.”
Elko believed his first at-bat was one of the most memorable moments of his career.
“That first time getting back was a super cool feeling,” Elko said of that first game. “Just walking in the box and being able to get back on the field after a huge turn of emotions where, at the beginning, I’m like ‘you know, I may never play at Ole Miss again.’ Then to get back with everything that happened in that month. Just all those emotions right there hit me. All of the support from the crowd and teammates… All of that together just made that moment unforgettable.” Remarkably, 33 days after his ACL was torn, in his second at-bat from returning, Elko rocked a 0-1 pitch over the right-center field fence for a home run.
“It was just a surreal feeling,” Elko profoundly said. “I blacked out. I came back to the dugout and I’m sitting there in the dugout and then it hits me like, ‘Alright, I guess I’m going to be able to do this.’”
He was able to do it. Elko began playing like his injury never happened.
Originally, he was only able to appear as a pinch-hitter. But, as the season progressed at the end of the year Elko was able to DH. He was running at about 75% of his speed but was still able to contribute; if needed, he would be run for later in the game.
After getting into a groove playing in more games, Elko hit his stride as the Rebels entered the SEC and NCAA tournaments. His best game garnered national attention, when Elko hit two home runs against the reigning National Champion Vanderbilt Commodores. He hit two more home runs in the Rebels’ winner-take-all regional final against Southern Miss.
After Ole Miss’s loss to Arizona in their NCAA Super Regional, there was a possibility Elko’s career in Oxford, Mississippi had ended. But, he ultimately made the decision to return for an extra season.
“The draft didn’t exactly go how I wanted it to and was hoping for it to go,” Elko said. “I remember between the second and third day and I just prayed about it. I wasn’t sure if I should go and I just prayed. God put on my heart that like ‘Hey, you got one more year, go use that.’”
The super senior is coming into 2022 hungrier than ever. The expectations for Elko and the Rebels are high.
“My expectations for myself are just to try to help us win as many games as possible. If I’m helping us win, I’m probably doing pretty well,” Elko said. “Our expectations are just to win, win as many games as possible. Host a regional, host a super regional, go to Omaha and you know the rest.”
The Rebels finished the 2021 season 45-22 and lost in game three of the super regional against Arizona. They returned the vast majority of their lineup but lost starting pitchers Doug Nikhazy and Gunnar Hoglund.
“The team’s looking great. We pretty much have the same whole offense back. We lost a couple of some key pitchers, but we have a lot of guys that have stepped up and we got some transfers,” Elko said. “I think this might be one of the most complete pitching staffs we’ve maybe ever had since I've been here.”
If the Rebels can break through and earn a trip to Omaha, Elko believes they would leave as champions.
“If we get to Omaha, we will be national champions. Since I’ve been here we’ve lost two times in that last game of the Super Regional,” Elko said. “One of our mottos is sticking to the journey and playing each game like it’s the last…. We’re going to play with the same intensity, same mindset.”
Elko will be 100% on Friday for the beginning of the season. He plans to play the field this season and plans to be “out there like normal.”
After a season full of adversity a year ago, Elko is ready for a completely fully healthy season with the Rebels and he only has one goal.
“I want to win a National Championship.”