SEALY, Texas -- For the most part, Ricky Seals-Jones looks much like the same young man he was roughly seven weeks ago. He runs the same, cuts the same, still has the same speed and athleticism.
But there is one small piece of evidence on the Sealy (Texas) High School receiver that gives away the change in his life over that span of time. It's the brace that resides on his left knee.
Seals-Jones, the nation's No. 1 receiver and No. 10 player in the ESPN 150, is fully recovered from the dislocated kneecap he suffered on Sept. 6 in a game vs. Houston St. Pius X, but the brace is a doctor's order. He wears one for practices and games and a different one the rest of the day when he's walking around. All day, every day, the brace is with him. Sometimes, the 6-foot-5, 230-pound young man gets weary of wearing it and slips it off.
But the Sealy community, which adores its young star, watches closely after him.
"Sometimes I try not to, but you know how that goes," Seals-Jones said. "Somebody will see me and say, 'You need to put your knee brace on.'"
The town loves him, much as it has previous stars that have come through Sealy's storied football program, one that has five state championships to its credit. Football is very much part of the fabric of Sealy and the same can be said for Seals-Jones.
For the first time since he suffered the injury, Seals-Jones will return to game action tonight when Sealy hosts Columbus (Texas) High School at Tiger Stadium. It's a moment Seals-Jones has impatiently waited for.
"It feels good to be back and play somebody else, another opponent," he said. "It's been a long time and I'm just ready to get back out there and help my team win."
While he was injured, he was still a popular man among the fans, particularly the kids. Young boys asked him for his autograph. Young girls brought him baked goods. For someone who was relegated to de facto cheerleader for much of September and October, it spoke volumes of the community's feelings for the one often called "RSJ."
"They showed a lot of support," Seals-Jones said. "Even when I was down, people were telling me 'Get healthy, get back soon.' They still showed love and support and I'm thankful for that."
While Seals-Jones is still the same teenager, one who is among the most coveted uncommitted football prospects in the country, much around him has changed since his injury occurred.
He has narrowed his choice of colleges to two: LSU and Texas A&M. Others still call -- Seals-Jones noted that Baylor, Florida State and TCU are still reaching out to him -- but he's not listening. His focus is on the two SEC West schools that are courting him the most.
Texas -- the school he originally committed to in the spring before later decommitting -- pulled out of the Seals-Jones race a week after his injury. It was a decision that left Seals-Jones and his family puzzled, but they moved on and he turned his focus to LSU and Texas A&M.
He has good relationships with assistants at both schools --- LSU special teams coordinator Thomas McGaughey and Texas A&M running backs coach Clarence McKinney. He visited College Station, Texas, on Saturday to watch Texas A&M host LSU at Kyle Field and enjoyed that trip.
Seals-Jones didn't go to College Station seeking answers. He simply wanted the chance to experience game day for himself and a chance to evaluate the Aggies up close and personal.
"I really didn't have any questions," he said. "I saw for myself what I wanted to see. My mom had a couple of questions and my brother and my dad but other than that, I didn't have any."
In a week, he'll head to Baton Rouge, La., to do the same with LSU as the Tigers host Alabama. He wants a chance to experience game day in Death Valley and compare it to what he experienced in Aggieland. After that happens, Seals-Jones will sit down with his mother, Buffy and his father, Chester, and discuss it all. His intentions currently are to make a decision after his high school season wraps up.
"After I make that trip, sit down, talk to my parents and I'll probably make a decision probably after football season," he said.
It's all a bit of a relief for Seals-Jones, who was a scared young man the night of Sept. 6 as he lay on the turf with his knee disfigured and wondering what his future football held or if he even was going to have a football future as an air cast was placed on his left leg and he was loaded onto a stretcher.
"I thought, 'I can't believe this is happening,' " he said. "I was just praying about it and hoping it wasn't anything serious."
He was fortunate as the MRI the next day revealed no structural damage. The road to recovery wasn't easy, though.
"It was hell," he said. "Coming in three times a day for like four weeks straight. ... But once you get into a rhythm of it and doing it over and over, it gets boring, but at the same time, you have to do it to get yourself back right."
It was even harder for him to sit on the sidelines and watch every Friday night and not be able to contribute. Still, he kept his head up and didn't pout because he wanted his teammates to know that he was fully behind them.
Now, Seals-Jones says there are no limitations. He cuts freely on the knee without thinking about it and he said he feels the same physically as he did before, better even. He was one of many Sealy Tigers banged up during the middle part of the season but as they hit the homestretch of their schedule, they need wins to secure a playoff berth.
The star receiver feels good about what's about to happen on the field in Sealy, Texas.
"Oh yeah, I have no doubt [we can finish strong]," he said. "Everybody's back healthy and we're just going to show everybody what the real Sealy Tigers are made of."