Auburn, Ala.--The crutches are gone and the limp is behind Steve Gandy now. All that is left to remind the Auburn sophomore of his medical troubles this preseason is a 22 inch scar located on the outside of his left thigh.
Making the move from safety to linebacker this fall, Gandy had spent a great deal of time in the weight room bulking up from his playing weight of 188 in 2005 to 205 pounds heading into two-a-days this fall. Everything was going well for the Waynesboro, Miss. native until he suffered a bruised thigh during an inside drill while the team was still practicing on the intramural fields.
Standing on the sidelines that day with his leg wrapped in ice, Gandy said at the time he would be back in just a few days. What he didn't know at the time was that his leg was bleeding internally and surgery would eventually be required to deal with his situation. After almost a week in the hospital Gandy came back and began working towards a return. Gandy set his goal to be back for LSU and he says it's going to be close.
"My doctor kind of gave me a statement that it would be the middle of October," Gandy says. "I'm a couple of weeks ahead of time. I'm thankful for that. I kind of knew it wasn't going to be that long because my body heals fast. Working each week it has gotten better each week. It has been my goal to try to come back and play some snaps this game. I'm going to push for this.
"This might be the biggest game in the country and might be the biggest game of the year," he adds. "I want to be a part of that. One of the worst feelings is going out and watching your teammates out there playing. You want to be out there. This week, if it's nothing but special teams, I want to get out there and play."
Gandy was one of Auburn's most physical linebackers before his injury during two-a-days.
With Gandy on the sidelines along with fellow linebackers Kevin Sears and Tray Blackmon, who were suspended, Auburn has been forced to play several young players at the linebacker position in the first two games. Two of them are freshmen Craig Stevens and Patrick Trahan. Gandy says he has been impressed by what he's seen out of both.
"I think everything happens for a reason," Gandy says. "Craig Stevens got a chance to come in and play a lot. All things work together. I thought it was going to be just a day thing and it wound up being a month. I'm not complaining about it. I was a little nervous when they told me at the time but looking back on it now it was just a part of life. Sometimes good things happen. Sometimes bad things happen. You've just got to overcome the bad."
A mentor to Stevens this summer and early fall when he was trying to teach the freshmen the ropes, Gandy says the tables have now turned on him in his return to the game. Missing so much time during two-a-days left Gandy searching for some answers in Tuesday's practice and he was surprised who he turned to for help.
"I asked him today in practice about a play," Gandy says of Stevens. "I didn't know what was going on and he told me. I was like ‘man, it seems like yesterday I was telling you about the plays'. I enjoyed watching them step up and do good, especially Craig as a true freshman. That's very hard and he stepped up and has been doing a good job. Trahan is stepping up a whole lot better than last year. I have really enjoyed it."
Even with the missed practice time Gandy still has a good feel for the defense because he's spent time watching film and in the meetings with the linebackers. Because of that he's been able to follow closely with what they are doing on the field. He says that helps him a great deal now that he's back playing.
"That was real important," Gandy says. "We put so much stuff in every week and every day. If I miss one of those meetings I'm three or four steps behind. Now I'm just a step behind everybody else. That's because I'm a little rusty. Once I knock some of the rust off it won't be a big issue."
Back up to 196 pounds, Gandy is hoping to be available for full contact on Wednesday following Tuesday's introduction back to practice. Still light for a linebacker, Gandy says it doesn't matter to him as long as he can get the job done. "I'm really feeling good," Gandy says. "I played at about 188 last year. I don't really think size is much of a factor. I'm just going to make sure my leg is good. I'll play at 180 if my leg is good. I'm not too worried about the weight."
Always a humble player on the field and off, Gandy says he has matured even more in the last month having to deal with his injury. While things looked bleak for a while and a scar remains a very visible reminder of what he went through, Gandy says that he's just thankful he still has the opportunity to play the game he loves so much.
"It could have been a whole lot worse," Gandy says. "They thought they were going to have to skin graft it but they were able to stitch it. Thank God because he told me it was about a 75 percent chance I would need a skin graft. Everything works together. It seemed bad but everything is good. It's amazing. I thank God and the people that prayed made a big difference."