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Pitt QB Stull ready to return

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Wednesday, Nov. 5, 2008
 

Bill Stull never heard the hush that enveloped Heinz Field as he lay motionless, awkwardly slumped on his right side. Even when the Pitt quarterback regained consciousness, he couldn't move a muscle.

Stull had lost his footing after throwing a pass and, while falling backward, had his head snap forward in a collision with tailback LeSean McCoy. It came in the third quarter of the Panthers' game Oct. 25 against Rutgers.

Now, left tackle Jason Pinkston was standing over Stull, sensing that it was serious and waving to the sidelines for the team trainers. And Stull was incapable of speaking or moving, fearing that paralysis was a possibility.

"I thought the worst," Stull said. "I thought that was it, that I broke my neck or something. I couldn't move. I don't know if I was scared stiff. ... I really couldn't open my eyes, couldn't speak, I couldn't move at all."

Stull spoke publicly Tuesday for the first time since suffering a concussion and stinger, which caused him to spend a night at UPMC Presbyterian and sit out Pitt's 36-33 quadruple-overtime victory at Notre Dame last Saturday. He intended to play against the Fighting Irish, but the combination of headaches, dizziness and nausea prevented him from practicing last week.

Stull tried to practice last Wednesday, but stopped after a few drills.

"Whenever someone sees Notre Dame on the schedule, you don't want to look ahead, but you put a star by that and say that's something you want to be part of," Stull said. "I wanted to try and do everything I could to be a part of that.

"That was one of the worst practices. In my head, I was like, 'This stinks.'"

Stull returned to workouts for the first time yesterday, lifting weights and riding a stationary bike before suiting up for practice in pads. Stull, who has completed 60 percent of his passes for 1,562 yards, declared himself prepared to play for No. 25 Pitt (6-2, 2-1) against Louisville (5-3, 1-2) in a Big East Conference game at noon Saturday at Heinz Field.

"I don't think there's any doubt that I'm going to be ready to play," he said.

Stull wasn't so convinced about that two weeks ago, while lying on the turf. He didn't realize the severity of the situation until he saw his father, Bill Sr., on the field and heard team doctors and trainers call to "board him" - place him on a stretcher - as a precaution.

"That was when I realized I'm not playing the rest of this game," said Stull, whose only other concussion came as a junior at Seton-La Salle High School. "I'm stubborn when it comes to injuries. I want to play no matter what. When I saw (Stull Sr.) coming on there, I kind of lost it."

It was the first game Stull's entire immediate family - his parents, Bill and Debbie, three sisters, brother-in-law and two nephews - was at a game since his first career start against Eastern Michigan in the 2007 opener. That proved to be a bad omen, as Stull tore ligaments in his right thumb in the third quarter of that game and was lost for the season.

This time, Stull gave a thumbs-up as he was carted off the field.

"It was scary," Pitt middle linebacker Scott McKillop said. "You don't like to see that happen to anybody, even the opposing team. We were worried. To see his thumbs-up was definitely uplifting."

Stull will take an extra precaution for his head and neck, as he could wear a new helmet, the Schutt ION D4, considered stronger and more durable and endorsed by the National Athletic Trainers Association as the best to prevent concussions.

Now, Stull can't wait to put his scare behind him and play football again.

"It was kind of another wake-up call," Stull said. "I know my (thumb) surgery last year was pretty serious, but this is your head, this is your neck. I have a new appreciation for being able to play football and having the God-given ability to go through everyday things.

"Playing this great game of football, it can be taken away from you on any play. I go into the complex every day knowing that something different can happen and I want to make the most of every chance I have."

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