Pitt's Gunn 'not ready to be done with football'
College Football Videos
TAMPA -- Adam Gunn couldn't recall a thing about the hit that knocked him out so cold his teammates heard him snoring while sprawled on the turf of Heinz Field in Pitt's season-opener against Bowling Green.
The force of the hit was so violent that it not only caused a concussion but left a slight fracture in his C-5 vertebrae, a condition which has since required surgery and is considered a career-threatening injury.
Gunn, a fifth-year senior linebacker from Vandergrift, forced himself to watch film of the helmet-to-helmet collision with middle linebacker Scott McKillop, his best friend and teammate since their pee-wee football days. They viewed it together at Pitt's Duratz Athletic Complex on the South Side, repeatedly rewinding the clip "multiple times" to let it sink in.
"It's hard to think that could be my last play, that it was the play that ended my senior year," Gunn said Wednesday night at the Hilton Tampa Airport Westshore Hotel, as Pitt was preparing to play No. 10 USF. "When I saw myself in that state -- unconscious -- it was hard. But I needed to see it."
It was Gunn's first-ever injury. The Kiski Area graduate had never missed a practice, let alone a game, in high school or college. Now, he was forced to deal with the possibility that his career could have ended early in the third quarter of the first game of his final season of college football.
"To be honest, a tear dropped down," Gunn said of learning the severity of his injury from physicians three days after it occurred. "It's my senior year. This could possibly end my football career."
Since a Sept. 15 surgery to fuse a plate to the C-4 and C-5 vertebrae to stabilize his neck, Gunn is wearing a neck brace for support. Cleared by doctors Wednesday morning to begin rehabilitation, Gunn said he still plans to petition the NCAA for a sixth season of eligibility.
"I'm definitely not ready to be done with football," said Gunn, 22. "If I have the opportunity to come back, I would. But I have to look at it in a positive light. There's really no other choice."
Gunn has a hereditary condition, a narrow spinal canal, as well as a family history of spinal-cord injuries. His older brother, Sanford, was temporarily paralyzed while playing in a game for Indiana University (Pa.). Adam was just pre-school age at the time but clearly remembers his mother, Dona, running onto the field, and Sanford being taken to a hospital by helicopter.
Adam Gunn took the brunt of the blow when a Bowling Green receiver ducked to avoid the tackle and they collided so violently it bent McKillop's facemask and cracked his helmet. Gunn walked off the field without assistance but doesn't remember anything until reaching the locker room.
Still, he knew something was wrong. He couldn't move his neck and was in "tremendous pain." Gunn felt it necessary to let his best friend off the hook and is almost apologetic that they are forever connected by the play.
"The fact that it was Scott makes it worse, because every article is saying it happened in 'helmet-to-helmet contact with Scott McKillop,'" Gunn said. "It's almost like he's to blame for a freak accident.
"It was almost as hard for Scott. He did feel responsible. I made it clear there was nothing he or I could have done to make it different."
Added Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt: "By those two communicating, it helped Scott deal with the situation. It was an accident, and they know that."
Still, Gunn is having difficulty fathoming what could have been. The 6-foot-2, 230-pounder had worked his way from special-teams star to earn the starting strong-side linebacker job last season and was Pitt's third-leading tackler with 59 stops, along with six tackles for loss and 1 1⁄2 sacks.
He was looking forward not only to playing alongside McKillop again but also fifth-year senior Austin Ransom, Gunn's roommate the past three years.
Gunn is now making contributions in other ways, tutoring his replacement, redshirt freshman Greg Williams, and helping linebackers coach Joe Tumpkin and Wannstedt on the sidelines during games. Gunn stayed at the team hotel and was on Pitt's sidelines for the Buffalo and Iowa home games and drove with his family to Syracuse this past Saturday.
"Adam's always upbeat, no matter what happens, but he could have very easily shut down and went in the tank," McKillop said. "I think it was a great sign for our team that he drove up to Syracuse and came in the locker room. That's something the younger kids can look up to.
"Having him there was just natural inspiration for our team. Even though he isn't playing, he's being a leader off the field."
Gunn is now more aware of spinal-cord injuries -- Washington State quarterback Gary Rogers, Ball State receiver Dante Love and USF linebacker Brouce Mompremier all suffered them on the same day, Sept. 20 -- and was hoping to seek out Mompremier before last night's game. Gunn also can relate to the scare Steelers linebacker Andre Frazier endured on the opening kickoff against the Baltimore Ravens on Monday Night Football.
If anyone was prepared for catastrophe, it was Gunn. He graduated in three-and-a-half years with a bachelor's degree in communication and rhetoric, and has a 3.75 grade-point average in two semesters in Pitt's masters of public administration program. Gunn could have opted to pursue another undergraduate degree and chase his NFL dreams but is glad he didn't.
"Thank God I made that decision," Gunn said. "In a sense, I've been preparing myself for a season- or career-ending injury, or not making it to the next level. I was trying to be ambitious, trying to make myself as valuable as possible, in football or life in general."
Whether or not he receives the extra year of eligibility, Gunn is hoping to remain involved in football. His focus is non-profit management, and he's interested in working in an NFL front office, perhaps in a player-development program that prepares them for life after football.
"That is what a student-athlete should be doing," McKillop said. "He's a great mold of what you want when you're recruiting. It's terrible what happened, but he didn't put his eggs all in one basket. He was prepared, no matter what. I wish he was still playing football, but he has a backup plan."
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.
- Sabres hire Bylsma as coach; Penguins receive 3rd-round pick
- Penguins GM Rutherford ‘wouldn’t make’ Despres trade today
- Starkey: Kang story of the year for Pirates
- Taliani’s 3 homers propel Deer Lakes to 2nd WPIAL softball title in 4 seasons
- Healthy defensive back Mitchell eager for 2nd season with Steelers
- Officer: Munhall driver in fatal crash was going too fast to make turn
- Pirates pitching prospect Kingham undergoes Tommy John surgery
- International counterfeiter sentenced in Pittsburgh to 7 1/2 years in prison
- Pyrotechnics to be used in TV filming in New Kensington
- Judge lashes UPMC, Highmark in consent decree violation hearing
- 9 miles of roads to be paved in Hempfield