NORMAN, Okla. — Jalen Redmond wasn’t sure how to describe the pain.
“I mean, I’d never felt anything like that,” he said.
As an Oklahoma freshman, Redmond’s world was rattled when he experienced blood-clot episodes last August. Symptoms include pain, numbness, swelling. In the aftermath, there’s loss of energy.
“I was scared, man. I didn't know what was going on,” Redmond said. “It felt like my ribs was broke, and they told me it wasn't nothing going on. And I was like 'so what's wrong? Why am I feeling this way?’”
Redmond, who was expected to contribute as an edge-rusher in first collegiate season, missed the first six games of last season. When his health appeared to make a turn for the better he returned for three games — TCU, Kansas State and Texas Tech — and was surprisingly effective.
But the clotting episodes recurred: “In practice I was feeling winded, real, real tired during the week and stuff,” he said. “Short of breath, chest pains, things like that.”
Redmond took the rest of the season off. Eventually he could work out with the help of proper medication, but he missed spring practices and was just recently fully cleared for summer.
“When the second time came around and it happened I was like, OK, maybe I need to just take the whole six months off so I can come back and won't have to deal with it anymore,” Redmond said. “It was tough. You know, coming in and playing three games and actually doing pretty good and just out of the blue it comes back and still not knowing where it's coming from, it messes with your head a little bit.”
Increased pressure at the line of scrimmage is critical as OU tries to improve its defense, which ranked 114th overall in Division I last season. Redmond, at 6 feet, 3 inches and 270 pounds, will be a key piece in his redshirt freshman year.
He’s even more important considering the defense will likely be down one playmaker from last year’s team, with linebacker Caleb Kelly suffering a serious lower-body injury this spring.
Freshman defensive end Ronnie Perkins led OU with five sacks last season. Opponents were comfortable dicing up the Sooner secondary, even more so than the previous year. In 2017-18, Ogbonnia Okoronkwo (eight sacks) was a more formidable, experienced threat on the edge.
Coaches are optimistic Redmond and Perkins can develop into a productive tandem.
“It's kind of like a tease right now,” OU coach Lincoln Riley said during the spring. “I mean you look over and see (Redmond’s) body and just say, man pads and helmet need to be on that guy. It'll be fun to get him back.”
Defensive line coach Calvin Thibodeaux agreed. Before the Orange Bowl, he could only wonder what it would be like to have Redmond in the mix.
He was especially good against K-State, where 2.5 of his three tackles were behind the line of scrimmage, resulting in a loss of nine total yards.
That could be a regular occurrence this fall if he continues to develop.
“You saw flashes of him against K-State,” Thibodeaux said. “You are like wow, this guy is really going to help our rotation and our depth right now. He was a playmaker. To lose a guy like that really sucked. But obviously we had to take all the precautions. He’s going to be a hell of a player.”