Long Road Back

Patrick Eades wore the black jersey, indicative of a third-team squad member, the whole time at practice this spring. Normally, that wouldn't be much of a story, but for Eades it's a milestone.

Eades is lucky to be punting at all. Really, he's lucky to be walking and even running. Realizing that fact, his mother Cathy watched with quiet emotion last week as her son participated in sprints with his teammates after practice.

"I had tried to stay away because I know this is his thing," she said, "but this is so much a part of his dream being fulfilled."

Early in the morning of February 4, 2004, Eades slammed his mother's Lexus head-on into the southwest ramp of Bryant-Denny Stadium, right across the street from Rammer Jammer's. Eades had arrived at the weightroom at 5:40 AM, but he'd forgotten to grab the shorts he needed.

Because the football complex locker rooms were being remodeled, the Bama players' lockers and gear were in the visitor dressing rooms at Bryant-Denny Stadium.

"I didn't want to be late because they made such a big deal about being on time," Eades said. "I didn't want to disrespect them by being late."

Mike Shula hardly knew the freshman punter at the time. He began learning most of the players' names in the fall of the previous year and jumped into the deep end of the Southeastern Conference recruiting pool after that.

"I was just starting to get to know them," Shula said. "I'll never forget that day in the hospital in the emergency room and his parents came down. Even back then he said, ‘Coach, I'm going to find a way to make it back.'"

Eades wasn't told much about the possibilities from a medical standpoint. He asked his doctor, Jorge Alonzo, if he would be able to run and punt again.

"He just told him, ‘I don't want to make any promises, let me put my hands in you and see what I can do and we'll talk afterwards,'" Cathy Eades said.

During the wreck his femur (thigh bone) was turned into projectile weapon by the force of the wreck, penetrating his mid-section and causing internal bleeding after shattering his hip and pelvis. Five days later Eades, after the bleeding had ceased, he had surgery to reconstruct his hip and pelvis where it met his femur.

"He came out about 3 hours after surgery and said there's no probability of anything but possibility of everything," Cathy Eades said. "It was one of worst fractures he'd seen."

Three months later Eades put pressure on his plant foot for the first time. He ran two months later and he re-joined the team for the 2004 season. Eades sat out last year for a medical redshirt and was not on the team while he strengthened his leg. Eades wasn't on the original 2006 spring roster, either.

"I had a tryout and I had to show them that I was able to kick," Eades said. "That year gave my muscles time to rest and recover and build back up strength that I didn't have last year."

Eades went back for his yearly check up last week. "Dr. Alonso can't quit smiling when he sees him," Cathy Eades said. "He said 'You're back, get out there and do what you do.'"

Eades is listed as a rising junior, but he has already obtained clearance for a sixth year of eligibility. That gives him three years of eligibility remaining.

"I just want to be able to get out here and be stronger every day," he said. "I definitely think I can. I have a great kicking coach in Atlanta that I go and work with. Thanks to him I have a better chance now than I had before."

His mother credited "sheer determination and prayers answered everywhere" for her son's recovery.

"There won't be a dry eye in the house if he gets back to punt (in a game)," she said. "I think athletics gave Patrick hope. He had a dream and that dream helped him to work and fight to get back where he was. He never knew there might be a chance he could or couldn't walk again. Nobody knew anything. Patrick had a dream and he was going back on that football team, and by golly he walked back out there."

Said Shula, "We want to give him an opportunity. It's been a long haul for him. He's a very conscientious kid. It's a neat story because of what he had to go through with his hip basically being shattered and now he's worked hard to come back."

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