Pitt training staff helps players fight through the pain
He talked to the coaches, consulted with doctors and trainers, even listened to his knee, which sent messages of pain to his brain nearly every day.
But Pitt linebacker Todd Thomas didn't make the most important decision of his football career until he had a conversation with his mom, Jodie Thomas-Brown.
“Just fight through it,” she said.
That's all he had to hear.
“I'm a warrior,” he said. “It was only a small wound. I said I'm going to fight through it.”
Thomas, a graduate of Beaver Falls, tore the ACL in his left knee last season while making a fourth-down stop of South Florida quarterback B.J. Daniels. Immediately, the knee felt tight, but he jogged on the sideline, and the feeling went away. Over the next few days, there was minimal swelling, and he was able to maintain strength in the knee, which suffered little collateral damage.
Heartened, Thomas delayed surgery four months to play most of the rest of the season. He missed the next two games — losses to Rutgers and Utah — but played five of the final six, recording seven tackles and a 39-yard interception return against Cincinnati.
Payment came due in January, when Thomas had surgery and started down a long, painful road to recovery. He practiced twice last week, but he has been idle since Wednesday, when the team put on pads.
Head athletic trainer Rob Blanc said Thomas is still early in the rehabilitation process, but he is optimistic he will play this season.
“My main thing is conditioning,” said Thomas, who wants to get down to 225 pounds. “Once I get some of this weight off my knee, I'll be fine.”
Blanc has helped Pitt athletes recover from a variety of injuries in the past 25 years — from ankle sprains to a cervical spine fracture. The work he has done — and will do — with the knee injuries of Thomas, running back Ray Graham, guard Chris Jacobson, cornerback K'waun Williams and linebacker Dan Mason will go a long way toward determining Pitt's fate this season.
“Rob and (assistant athletic trainer Tim Dunlavey) are the reason I'm running right now,” Thomas said.
The typical rehab process is “brutal,” Blanc said, and Thomas admits to some difficult days, most of which began at 6:30 a.m.
“My personality is funny,” Thomas said. “(They said) ‘Come on, you have to work.' And I'm like, ‘No.' But every time I'm thinking of not doing something I need to do, I think of Milford (the New York prep school he attended after leaving Beaver Falls) and those times I sacrificed. Why go backwards? I need to go forwards.”
Three hours a day, five days a week, Thomas and other injured players worked with Blanc and his staff, preparing for the season. The process included something as difficult as running in a pool or pulling a weighted sled, or as simple as lifting a leg.
“There were a couple times he would text me, ‘Are you ready?' ” Thomas said. “I'm looking at it, and I wanted to lie back down, but I came over because I had to.”
Blanc said rehab is mentally and physically demanding.
“They talk about the stages of grief when somebody dies,” he said. “There is the denial, the acceptance, the bargaining. Then there is the rejection. You will see an injured athlete go through that.
“First, they don't believe they are injured. Then, they start feeling a little better, and they start to bargain with you: ‘If I can do this, will you let me do this?' That's the whole psychological part of it. Some kids don't believe they will ever get better. You really have to convince them.”
Blanc said he has seen few injuries more serious than the one Mason suffered two years ago against Miami at Heinz Field.
“I was worried that he was never going to walk again,” Blanc said.
Mason dislocated his knee, tore three ligaments and other muscles and stretched nerves. Today, he is a backup middle linebacker who runs with a brace and continues to amaze trainers.
“It's absolutely incredible what he's doing,” Blanc said. “He was the one that it didn't matter what we did to him.”
Such comeback stories are what make Blanc's job so rewarding.
“Any time you get a kid back doing what he wants to do and know you played a part in it,” Blanc said, “that's why you do this.”
Jerry DiPaola is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can reached at email@example.com or 412-320-7997.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Pitt football growing under Chryst
- Pitt swingman Jones ready for breakout season
- Motivated by his upbringing, Pitt’s Boyd exceeding expectations
- ACC bracing for NCAA rules changes involving coaches and athletes
- Clemson’s Stoudt is one of the unheralded ACC QBs trying to break out
- Pitt safety Vinopal hopes extra conditioning pays off
- ACC notebook: Pitt predicted to finish 6th in Coastal Division