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Georgia loses Gary to leg injury

ATHENS, Ga. - Georgia suffered another critical loss to its offense when receiver <b>Damien Gary</b> had to have emergency surgery on his left leg late Sunday.

The damage caused by acute compartment syndrome in Damien Gary's leg is expected to keep the junior out for the rest of the season. The Georgia offense already was missing three all-star candidates - receiver Fred Gibson, tailback Musa Smith and offensive tackle Jon Stinchcomb - in last Saturday's 52-24 win at Kentucky.

Gary complained of soreness after the Kentucky game. When Gary reported for treatment Sunday, Georgia director of sports medicine Ron Courson and his staff of trainers recognized the symptoms of swelling, numbness and weakness in the lower leg. Gary was taken to St. Mary's Hospital for further evaluation.

"We were watching film (Sunday) night the first time we heard about it,'' said receivers coach John Eason. "(Courson) came in and kind of caught us all off guard with that one.''

Surgery was performed by Georgia team orthopedist Dr. Robert Hancock late Sunday to relieve pressure caused by swelling in the leg. A second surgery is planned for today to evaluate damage caused to the leg and to close the wound. ACS can be a very serious condition, but the prognosis was good for Gary. Coaches and teammates visited Gary in his hospital room Monday, his 22nd birthday.

"We feel good right now,'' Courson said. "We just need to monitor him and we'll know more (today).''

Said Coach Mark Richt: "He's going to be fine. It's going to take time to heal. It is very doubtful he would play for the rest of the regular season.''  Added Richt: "He's in good spirits. He understands things like that happen. It happened to him, and he knows it could be worse.''  

The loss of Gary comes as No. 5 Georgia (8-0 overall, 5-0 Southeastern Conference) prepares to play Florida Saturday night in Jacksonville. With a win, Georgia would clinch a berth in the Dec. 7 SEC championship game in Atlanta, but now injuries are becoming an increasingly critical factor for the team.

Gary, who returns punts, and Gibson, the regular kickoff return specialist, rank second and third, respectively, in receptions, behind Terrence Edwards. Reggie Brown, Michael Johnson and true freshmen Bryan McClendon and Mario Raley will have bigger roles at receiver this week.  Gibson will have a new cast fitted for his left hand today, and he hopes to be able to play this week. He was cleared to run in Monday night's practice and will have his first opportunity to catch passes with the new cast later in the week.

"I've got to do something,'' Gibson said. "Shoot, the receivers  are going down left and right. We've got so many injuries, it's crazy.''  

Stinchcomb "is progressing well,'' according to Courson, and will participate in limited work today with the hopes of joining all practice Wednesday.  

Smith practiced Monday night but will have to play with the cast protecting the thumb for four to six weeks, according to Courson.  If Gibson cannot play this week, Georgia will be dangerously thin at receiver. McClendon likely would line up with the three remaining veterans - Edwards, Brown and Johnson - in a four-receiver set.

Still, it may be even more difficult to find a replacement for Gary on punt returns. Gary ranks fourth in the SEC and 15th in the nation with his average of 15.2 yards per punt return. Edwards can return punts, but Richt said Monday he does not want to overload Edwards, who already moved up on kickoff returns after Gibson's injury. The loss of Gary also means less rest for Edwards at receiver.  

"We don't know (who will return punts) for sure,'' Richt said. "Edwards is going to be spread pretty thin.''

Other options to return punts include safety Sean Jones and cornerbacks Tim Jennings and Ryan Davis. Davis said he returned kicks and punts at Carver High School, and he worked some on returns in spring practice this year.  

"With Damien being out, it's a big loss and whoever is put back there is going to have a hard time doing what he has done,'' Davis said.  

NOTE: The Nov. 9 home game against Mississippi will be televised by ESPN2 with a 7 p.m. kickoff, the network announced Monday.  ... Edwards was named SEC Offensive Player of the Week Monday. He caught five passes for 127 yards and three touchdowns against Kentucky. ... Georgia moved up one spot to fourth in the Bowl Championship Series Monday, behind Oklahoma, Miami and Notre Dame.

Charles Odum is the beat writer for Dawg Post in Athens. He has over 20 years of experience covering Georgia football. He can be reached here: CEOdum@aol.com

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