Around this time last season, it started to become apparent that senior linebacker and captain Devon Jackson was going to miss the rest of the season for UNH. Jackson had played limited minutes in the Wildcats' first two games of the season, but his injured shoulder was showing no improvement. The leader in tackles for UNH just a year before, Jackson would never suit up again for the Wildcats.
Fast-forward to this season and yet another talented senior is having his year – and his career - cut short. Chris Jeannot had been dealing with the after effects of a concussion from early last season for quite some time, but he appeared to be poised to have a monster senior season. Standing at 6-foot-6, Jeannot has both the size and skill of an NFL prospect. He would have been quarterback Kevin Decker's top target down the middle of the field.
But another concussion at some point in practice over the last few weeks has ended Jeannot's season just two games in and ended his shot at a career in the NFL. The long-term effects of head injuries in sports have been well documented over the last few years. Coach Sean McDonnell was not going to take any chances with the tight end.
Nonetheless, it is not easy to watch a talented player such as Jeannot or Jackson lose his final season to injury. Instead of taking one last shot at an FCS championship, these players have to sit back and watch their team, helpless on the sideline.
Jackson was a leader at the middle linebacker position, directing the defense while making an impact on almost every play. He can still be seen in UNH's promotional commercial, representing the school and the football team.
Jeannot, meanwhile, has gotten the short end of the stick throughout his career at UNH. Despite displaying immense talent coming out of high school, Jeannot had to sit behind All-American tight end Scott Sicko for the first three years of his career. And after Sicko finally graduated, Jeannot played very little in his junior year due to concussion. It is the same story for his senior year.
In Jackson's case, UNH was fortunate enough to have Matt Evans as a replacement. The sophomore linebacker was brilliant, racking up 156 tackles, the second most in the entire FCS.
The Wildcats will have to hope that someone can fill in for Jeannot like Evans filled in for Jackson. Senior Sean Cullen has proven to be a valuable backup and will have the chance to prove what he can do as a starter.
But for Jeannot, there will always be questions. What if he had been healthy the past two seasons? What if the 6-foot-6, 261-pound tight end – whom McDonnell called a "pro prospect"- had gotten a chance to go to the NFL combine? Sadly, those are questions that will never be answered.