Bama's 'Titanium Tackle'

Back in December when his teammates were understandably focused on the Tide's new head coach, junior Evan Mathis was otherwise occupied. <br><br>For the second year in a row the big lineman underwent surgery to repair a stress fracture in his leg.

"Nobody heard about it, because we did my surgery right when the coaching change happened," Mathis explained. "This time it was the other leg. It was like a mirror-image injury."

After drilling a hole in the side of his leg, the doctor's inserted a titanium rod inside the bone to "set" the fracture and allow the bone to heal. "It's on the tibia," Mathis related. "The same exact spot as before. Except that last year it was my left leg, and now it's my right."

Shown standing on the sideline last season, since taking over the starting job a few games into his redshirt freshman year, Mathis has become a fixture at right tackle for the Tide.

The timing at least was slightly different this time. As a redshirt freshman in 2001 Evan Mathis played almost the entire season with a broken leg, explaining afterwards to his incredulous coaches that he didn't want to risk losing his starting job by revealing the injury.

This time around at least Mathis only had to put up with the pain for a half season. He recalled what happened. "I started feeling it about halfway through the year, but I didn't tell Rodney (Brown, Head Football Trainer) about it until we had about a month left. Both of us were like, ‘Ah, not again!'"

The duplicate injury took Brown by surprise, but at least Mathis had already proven his ability to play with pain. "We knew I could play on it," Mathis said. "We knew I could deal with the pain. We just let it go for awhile."

Besides knowing his track record for pain endurance, the Tide staff also benefited from lessons learned treating his previous injury. Last season the doctors waited until after spring practice, hoping the fracture would heal on its own.

But this time around, once the diagnosis was confirmed the doctors operated immediately. "We got the x-ray, and sure enough, the (stress fracture) was there," Mathis said. "We knew how things went with the other one, so instead of trying to let this one heal we decided to go ahead and have surgery."

Reasoning that injuries are simply part of the game, football players are usually philosophical about surgery. Because of the extra wear and tear on their joints, lingering pain can especially be a concern for 300-pound linemen. Mathis commented. "I should be able to pick up my grandchildren when I'm an old man. At least my legs will be fine."

The injury was a repeat performance for Mathis, prompting questions as to whether he's somehow prone to stress fractures. "I may have been susceptible to it," Mathis acknowledged, "but the doctors think it's probably just from the constant pounding.

One of the most dedicated lifters on the team, Mathis has built himself into an impressive athlete.

"At least I'm done now. I don't have a third leg to worry about getting another stress fracture for. I've got titanium rods in both of them now, so I'll be better than ever when I'm fully recovered from it."

Mathis jokes that he'd better keep his hair dyed blond and stay clean-shaven, otherwise he'll have a devil of a time getting past airport security. "When I try and go through the metal detectors, they'll wonder what's going on," he said laughing. "They may believe one rod, but not two."

Having undergone the exact same procedure less than a year ago, Mathis knew what to expect. "The first few days after surgery I didn't do much," he related. "I was just at home laying around. But it wasn't as bad as before. This time I never even used crutches. The previous surgery I was on crutches for a few days."

"I started back rehabbing with Rodney before school started," Mathis continued. "We did leg extensions, leg curls, hip movements. And then I started running just on a treadmill. Of course I was on the bike quickly. It actually came along pretty fast."

Last year both Mathis and receiver Antonio Carter had stress fractures in their leg surgically repaired. Both had problems with pain. In fact Carter ended up sitting out the season as a redshirt.

But Mathis didn't miss a game, and this time around he's already back working out with the team. "There is always some pain," Mathis explained. "But usually the worst is before I start exercising. Working the stiffness out can be intense. But when we get going I get used to it."

Mathis blocks versus Ole Miss. (photo courtesy of Barry Fikes)

With the rod in his leg, the fracture is "fixed" and can't get worse, so Mathis chooses to just ignore the pain. He explained. "The pain is tolerable. What you can do is whatever you can tolerate. I hobbled there for awhile, but I'm moving around perfect now."

"At least the first injury is completely healed now," he continued. "I haven't had even a speck of pain from it for months. The pain from the previous injury finally left right before the second one happened."

Since arriving on campus as a true freshman, Mathis has endured more than his share of injuries. Two broken legs, a broken toe, a strained neck, a sprained shoulder and back spasms--but Mathis has yet to miss a game due to injury.

However, he laughs at the idea of being labeled an "Iron Man," explaining that with matching rods in each leg "I'm ‘Titanium Man' now."

Actually the Tide coaches refer to him as "Wild Man," a nickname Mathis is reluctant to fully explain. "I'm a little different sometimes," was all he'd offer. "I'm crazy. You can ask anybody. I'm just extreme. Everything to the limit with me.

"Keep me away from the ski slopes, otherwise there might be some broken trees."


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