There were two instances Detroit Lions cornerback Jeff Okudah remembers when he wasn't able to hold in his emotions after suffering a torn Achilles in Detroit's Week 1 loss to the San Francisco 49ers last year.
Okudah said the first was when his aunt, Jane Obodo, picked him up from Ford Field after he suffered the injury. Okudah didn't have an exact diagnosis at the time, but it was feared to be a serious Achilles injury.
He had such big hopes for his second season after an injury-plagued rookie season in 2020 that he said the emotions just bubbled up to the surface once he got in the car.
"She'd never really seen me cry before," Okudah said after Thursday's open OTA practice, thinking back to that day last September. "I just had big hopes for that last year. That day I was really down. It kind of felt like I was living a nightmare."
And then the Lions' win against Minnesota Week 13, their first win of the season last year after starting 0-11, was a bittersweet moment for Okudah. He loved that his team won, but he wished he could have been a part of it.
"I know all the work these guys put in and I could only imagine how great that moment felt, because it felt great for me and I wasn't even playing," Okudah said.
But fast forward months ahead and Okudah is in a very different place both physically and mentally. He's eight months removed from surgery and taking part in OTAs in limited fashion, and looking pretty good doing it. The Lions are taking a cautious approach with him, limiting him to team and walkthrough periods, but Okudah is in a much better place right now.
Okudah did his research on Achilles tears, and came across other athletes who have suffered through it. He got in contact with NBA stars John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins, two players who suffered Achilles injuries and returned to play.
Okudah said the advice he got from them gave him the confidence he can return. They told him the Achilles would be the least of his worries. Overcoming the mental part of the injury and taking care of the rest of his body will be the bigger hurdles to overcome.
"For me, that was really reassuring going into the process," Okudah said. "From there, just attacked the rehab since November."
Lions head coach Dan Campbell was asked about Okudah and his progress Thursday before practice.
"We're not worried about Jeff's movement skills," Campbell said. "Like, he's going to be able to move. You watch him, with his footwork and the things that he's doing, he can do all that.
"That is real important right now, is just continuing his growth mentally and him being able to get the walkthrough reps and just to get the film study. Those things are big for him right now. So, it's good to have him here, to have him available to do that. When the time's right, to go full speed when we get him in camp, he'll be ready."
View photos from Day 5 of Detroit Lions OTA practices on Thursday, June 2, 2022 in Allen Park, Mich.
Okudah, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, is expected to play a big role in Detroit's defense in his third season. He's lining up opposite Amani Oruwariye at outside cornerback during first-team reps in the periods he's taking part in.
Okudah was hungry to prove himself even before the injury, but now that hunger has grown. He can't wait to get back out there and be part of what's expected to be an improved Lions defense.
So, when will that be exactly?
"I've thought about that question for a long time," Okudah said. "Best way to describe it is I'm going to be ready when it's time to be ready. I'll be confident I'll be ready when it's time to be ready."