Senior defensive tackle is back doing what he loves, almost. . . .

Ole Miss DT Issac Gross was sidelined last year with a major neck injury that required a disk fusion. Five months later and the talented Gross has been cleared for "everything but contact" and he's optimistic about the recovery path he is on.

"I feel great, man," said Gross after Thursday's spring practice. "I put my helmet on Wednesday for the first time since the UT-Martin game and it felt good. It's tough being away from a game you love and are so passionate about, but I never had a doubt I would be back. I am blessed.

"I can't have any contact right now, but I am healed up, I'm doing what I can in drills and doing my best to lead these guys on both sides of the ball."

Gross said he got hit "funny" - in the ribs -  in the UT-Martin game and he knew immediately something was wrong.

"I felt partially paralyzed on my left side as I was coming off the field - real numb. I had had a bulging disk before but the hit knocked it out of place and it spiked my spinal cord," he stated. "After that, (DL) Coach (Chris) Kiffin thought I was going to sleep in film meetings, but I told him it wasn't that. I hurt so bad and was getting dizzy from watching the films so I would just shut my eyes to see if the pain would go away. It didn't. It was like I had a crick in my neck all the time and there were times I couldn't hold my head up."

When the diagnosis came in, and fusion surgery was required, Gross started immediately plotting his way back. It was very similar to the surgery Denver Bronco QB Peyton Manning had a couple of years ago, Issac said.

"I am a man of faith and I understand that sometimes God puts obstancles in your way. I just stayed positive with everything and started on my way back. The day after the surgery, I started doing pushups because I couldn't lift weights and I had to give everything time to heal. There was a lot of rest and a lot of pushups," he smiled. "I didn't want to be a couch potato and I sure didn't want to sit around feeling sorry for myself. I immediately started locking in to getting better, but being cautious and taking my time like the doctors said."

Now, he's just moving forward, baby step after baby step at a time, but he is mindful that it was a neck injury and at his position, many plays are "lead with the head." Is there something technique-wise he will work on to not "bash" his head against offensive linemen every play?

"We clash every play in the trenches, so it will be hard to avoid head-to-head contact, but what I have done is taken gaining weight seriously and worked very hard on strengthening the neck and shoulder muscles," said Issac. "I was 230 pounds when I got hurt. I am 260 now. My shoulders, neck and back are much stronger. Also, I want to be more efficient with my hands - that could take some of that stress and contact off my head and neck.

"But, it's going to happen. There's going to be some head-to-head contact. There is no avoiding that, but I will be ready for it."

Issac is confident his final year at Ole Miss will be a good one.

"I'm doing everything in my power to make sure this comeback goes the way it is supposed to. I want badly to get back on the field and help this team win a lot of games next year," he closed.

Gross is well into his comeback bid, but it will require more patience and a positive attitude, something he has in abundance.


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