Many NFL players retire with fond memories of their careers.
Joe Montana has his four Super Bowl championships and three Super Bowl MVP awards. Aside from his extensive list of accolades, Franco Harris will forever be associated with the “Immaculate Reception.” Emmitt Smith has his NFL-leading 18,355 career rushing yards.
Former offensive lineman Will Rackley left the game with a different memento.
“I’ve had a non-stop headache since July 24, 2014,” said Rackley, who spent four seasons with the Jacksonville Jaguars and Baltimore Ravens. “I ended up having to stop playing because I had three concussions. After my last one last year, I ended up getting post-concussion syndrome I still have today. I still get headaches and symptoms every day.”
Rackley, who was selected in the third round (No. 76 overall) by the Jaguars in the 2011 NFL Draft, sustained three concussions in a nine-month time span from 2013-14 that put an abrupt end to his professional playing career.
The Lehigh University graduate played 15 games (14 starts) his rookie season with Jacksonville, providing stability on the offensive line while helping pave the way for running back Maurice Jones-Drew, who led the NFL with 1,606 rushing yards.
The shine quickly wore off.
Rackley, a 6-foot-3, 318-pound left guard, missed the entire 2012 season due to a broken ankle suffered in training camp; he was placed on Injured Reserve on Aug. 31.
Rackley returned to the field in 2013, starting 11 games, but suffered a concussion playing against the San Francisco 49ers on Oct. 27 in London.
“I pulled on a play and hit (linebacker) NaVorro Bowman helmet-to-helmet,” Rackley, 26, said. “I knew instantly it was a concussion. … Flying back on the airplane 10 hours after that isn’t the best for you.”
Rackley suffered his second concussion after another helmet-to-helmet hit during Jaguars practice later that fall. He was forced to go on the IR again on Dec. 17.
Following a slew of front office and coaching changes, Rackley was one of six players released by Jacksonville on May 12, 2014. Having been cleared to continue to play football again, Rackley landed with the Baltimore Ravens less than a week later; signing on May 19.
Unfortunately, what was supposed to be a fresh start, was cut short. On the first day of camp with the Ravens, Rackley suffered a third concussion.
His season was over. His career was over.
“(My career) was pretty injury-ridden,” he said. “It was a little bit of a struggle. But I lived my dream and I can’t complain about it at all.”
Rackley’s dream, though, has since turned into a constant nightmare. He suffers frequent headaches and occasionally has debilitating migraines, spells of dizziness and nausea.
He’s visited neurologists in Florida, Maryland, New York and North Carolina as well as countless doctors.
When the intense post-concussion syndrome symptoms flair up — which is a complete crap shoot — Rackley usually has to sit down, close his eyes or try to take a nap until they subside.
“No over-the-counter medicine really helps,” he said. “I’m used to it. It only bothers me when I get the really bad headaches and migraines. I would have to mellow out — try to take a nap or lay down until it goes away. If I stare at a bright screen for a while that can trigger it. Most other times it comes on its own.”
Even though his NFL career is over, Rackley’s life isn’t, headaches or not. He isn’t wallowing in what could have been or what ifs. Rackley, who started started 45 of his 46 career games at Lehigh (finishing with 40 straight starts), has since put his degree in product design to work.
Along with fellow former Mountain Hawks athletes Michael Ojo, Prentice Small and Ricky Clerge, Rackley has developed and launched a new dating app called H.A.D., which helps users understand up front what others are looking for — Hook up, Avoid or Date.
“A lot of problems with Tinder is you don’t know if someone wants to date or hook up,” said Rackley, who lives in Atlanta. “We made an app where you know up front, so you can get past the awkward stages.”
The four Lehigh graduates have all been putting their respective degrees and specialities to use in developing the app, saving on cost, Rackley said. The app is currently available on the Apple app store and has approximately 1,000 downloads, he said.
Dating apps aren’t the only thing Rackley is putting his efforts into following his stint in the NFL. An avid drawer, Rackley has begun to paint, as well. He has been commissioned to paint anything from dogs to landscapes or people.
The app and art keep Rackley occupied while he waits on any disability/compensation from the NFL as a result of his career-ending injuries.
Rackley said he isn’t sure what’s in store for him next outside of working on the app and painting, but if his response to his playing career being cut short is any indication, he’ll certainly have a backup plan.