In SEC, practice makes patients

INJURIES PLAGUE PRE-SEASON

HERALD-LEADER SPORTS COLUMNISTAugust 13, 2008 

The news out of Athens, Ga., on Tuesday morning was as expected, which wasn't good.

Trinton Sturdivant, starting left tackle, the best offensive lineman on the nation's pre-season No. 1 college football team, a stellar sophomore who had injured his knee in a Monday scrimmage, would need reconstructive surgery.

Season over.

That followed last week's news from Gainesville, Fla. — Cornelius Ingram, senior tight end, Gators team captain, was out for the year. He injured a knee in a non-contract drill on Tuesday. Surgery required. Season over.

Same thing at Auburn just one day before. Cornerback Aairon Savage, a starting free safety, injured a knee in a Monday practice. Worst worries were confirmed. Surgery required. Season over.

Survival is the name of the game these days in college football training camps.

It's not so much the players you have at the start of drills, but the ones who make it to the start of the season.

“The game is a contact, physical game,” said UK Coach Rich Brooks on Tuesday after his team's morning practice. “Unfortunately, you risk injury every time you go out on the field.”

Sometimes, you lose players even before you make it onto the field. Brooks knows about that. Just a week ago, he expected junior Curtis Pulley to battle for his team's starting quarterback spot. But then off-the-field issues arose. A decision had to be made. And Pulley is no longer around.

But for the ones who buckle their chin straps, land mines await. Southern Cal has lost quarterback Mark Sanchez for the time being to a dislocated kneecap suffered during warm-ups before practice. Just Sunday, UCLA quarterback Ben Olson took a bad step and fractured the fifth metatarsal in his right foot for the second time in four months. He's slated to miss at least two months.

“We've lost guys in shorts out here for the year with ACLs,” said Brooks, nodding to the practice field at the Nutter Center. “It's just hold your breath a little bit. You try to emphasize proper fundamentals, staying on your feet and not falling down, falling into somebody's legs when you're going through the drills.”

Nothing is foolproof. I can remember back in 1989, early in two-a-days. I had skipped UK's morning practice to make a previously scheduled interview with then-associate athletics director Gene ­DeFilippo, now the AD at Boston College.

DeFilippo arrived with a long face. He asked if I had heard the news. Star junior linebacker Randy Holleran had slipped on the wet grass and torn an anterior cruciate ligament in his knee. He was out for the season.

Florida has been hit especially hard this pre-season. Since the week before camp started, Ingram is the fourth Gator to be lost for the season to an ACL.

Now Georgia Coach Mark Richt feels Urban Meyer's pain.

Every coach's pain.

“It makes you sick,” the Georgia coach told the media Monday after Sturdivant's injury. “It's just sad to see a guy hurt.”

No matter the timing. Brooks points to three years ago, UK's second game, a 41-29 win over Idaho State. The win was bittersweet. Keenan Burton, Tommy Cook and Marcus McClinton all were injured. All three ended up missing significant time. The Cats stumbled home 3-8.

“I've lost a lot of guys in pre-season over the years,” Brooks said. “Any time you lose starting players during the pre-season (it's tough), but sometimes there's not much difference between the first and second game losing a guy.”

Any solutions?

“Yeah,” Brooks said. “You could go out in shorts all the time and not get ready to play the game.”

Better to just hold your breath.

Reach John Clay at (859) 231-3226 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3226, or jclay@herald-leader.com. Read his blog at Kentucky.com.

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