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Pitt senior middle linebacker Gordon has played through pain

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Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Pitt linebacker Shane Gordon practices Saturday in the South Side. He finished second on the team with six passes defensed and sixth in tackles (48) last season.

Last chance

The Pitt football team has five seniors who are expected to start on defense this season:

Pos. Player Notable

DT Aaron Donald One of the ACC's best at his position

DT Tyrone Ezell Started 12 games last season

MLB Shane Gordon Has played strong-side and middle LB at Pitt

CB K'Waun Williams Currently hobbled by a knee injury

SS Jason Hendricks Second-team All-Big East in 2012

'American Coyotes' Series

Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

Monday, Aug. 12, 2013, 9:12 p.m.
 

No one can accuse Pitt senior middle linebacker Shane Gordon of hiding a serious neck injury last season.

He told trainers, but he didn't continually complain about it. Actually, how could anyone tell the difference? He just kept playing, making short-yardage stops against Virginia Tech and Notre Dame that were among the most important defensive plays of the season.

“If I can play, I want to play,” he said, “I would rather not tell anybody.”

Actually, Gordon injured his neck Sept. 1 against Youngstown State and didn't miss a game until late October when he was forced to sit out consecutive games — due to an ankle sprain. He wasn't supposed to play the following week against Notre Dame, but he inserted himself in the game when Emanuel Rackard was injured.

Without permission from a coach or trainer, Gordon ran onto the field early in the second quarter and stopped Irish running back Theo Riddick for a 4-yard loss from the 1, forcing Notre Dame to settle for a field goal.

“Rack hurt his leg and I said, ‘I'm going in. I don't care.' It was just one play,” Gordon said. “I figured I could make the play and I did.”

Were coaches upset?

“They didn't say anything about it,” he said.

Finally, Gordon made a concession to his neck injury and skipped the BBVA Compass Bowl in January. Less than a month later, he had surgery.

Gordon admitted that his neck always bothered him and forced him to make concessions to the injury on the field. He just didn't talk much about it.

“I couldn't hit as hard as I wanted,” he said. “I was kind of holding back just because of the pain I was having in my neck.”

Nonetheless, he finished second on the team with six pass breakups and sixth in tackles (48).

Gordon said he isn't sure what doctors did to repair his neck, other than inserting “screws and bolts” that might set off security alarms at the airport.

“I haven't tried yet,” he said, laughing. “But maybe.”

Today, he said his neck is completely healed.

“Other than being sore from hitting,” he said, “I have no neck problems. I got a few good, little pops in (during the first days of camp). I was nervous when camp started, but it wasn't bothering me.”

One week into camp, Gordon is helping hold together a young group of 13 linebackers that totals only 19 career starts (11 of which are his). The team is depending on Gordon and the four other senior starters on defense to prop up a team that is inexperienced in many areas.

“If you are going to be any good, your senior class has to play its best football,” coach Paul Chryst said.

Jerry DiPaola is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jdipaola@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.

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