July 21, 2024

NJ PISCATAWAY — For Jai Patel, the football kicker for Rutgers, it came as a complete surprise because there was no sign in the spring of 2022 that something seriously was amiss with his body.

Instead, he ought to have been coasting into graduation and senior prom. Patel looked forward to spring break and the last few months of his high school career.

Patel experienced a tightness in his lung while getting ready for school in the middle of March, his senior year. He recalls brushing his teeth and putting up with the pain, blaming it on acid reflux or dyspepsia.

He recalls the time: Patel was focused on getting out the door as school was scheduled to start in an hour. He dislikes being late.

Then, he claims, “again and again and again,” it started to happen. The agony would not subside. It felt like it was tightening more.

His lung collapsed, and he was hospitalised for the following week. I spent the next six weeks recovering and going to rehab. However, in terms of physical state, he was far from his pre-hospitalization state.



In the 2022 recruiting class, Patel was regarded as one of the best kickers in the country. Early in the process, he had committed to Rutgers as a preferred walk-on. He’d become something of a rock star at Rutgers that autumn, going to games and standing with the student body.

He started bringing recruits and commits into the student section with him because his future classmates loved it.

However, here he was, almost two months away from his freshman report to Rutgers, and he was far from prepared. He was just not physically prepared to be running and lifting at the level he was used to.

He acknowledges that when he arrived on campus, he had no idea what would happen. If he could take part, practise to the fullest, or see how any of this could work out for him.

Before practise, his doctors gave him the all-clear, but by the time he got to Rutgers, he claims he was still feeling a little under the weather.

“I was kind of surprised because I felt like I was having trouble on my own, but when I got here, something in my body just magically clicked, and I was ready to go full,” Patel remarked.

“I felt like nothing had happened to me—I was back to my normal self—go run and lift things.”

Patel was a redshirt last season, and it paid off. His kicks now have more distance and he put on some muscle. He was selected for the starting lineup this year during training camp and has performed admirably for Rutgers.

Given that both of his sisters are alumni of the university, Rutgers has a strong familial history. His family is ardent about supporting him and going to his games.

As he has become an invaluable member of the special teams team, Patel said that this has been his dream come true. Although it has only been about 20 months since his lung collapse, it feels like forever.

Although it doesn’t define who he is, he has valued the experience and the places Rutgers has led him.

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