Gunn Makes Triumphant Return

Don't pity Pitt linebacker Adam Gunn for the six-month stretch he endured after suffering a severe neck injury during the Panthers' opening game this past fall, but feel sorry for the teammate he lines up the first day he's cleared for a full-contact practice.

"I try not to think about it, but it's always in the back of my mind,'' Adam Gunn said. "So, that first hit's going to be different, but once I get it and it feels good, I feel bad for everybody else.''

Gunn -- miraculously granted a sixth season by the NCAA some three weeks ago, nearly six months to the day that he hit helmet-to-helmet with teammate Scott McKillop during an opening-game loss to Bowling Green -- will do everything the Panthers do in practice except contact drills.

And Gunn, who turns 23 this June, ironically will try to replace McKillop as the starting middle linebacker for Pittsburgh. He is competing in that spot during spring workouts, which began Thursday at the UPMC Sports Complex's indoor field, with fifth-year senior Shane Murray -- who also is limited this spring while rehabbing after knee surgery -- fifth-year senior Steve Dell and redshirt sophomore Brandon Lindsey.

"I was always the backup Mike (MLB) behind Scott,'' Gunn said. "I never got any reps, but I had to learn it and be ready in case something happened to him. So, I would have moved, say, if he would have been injured.

"It was always in the back of my mind, I guess you could say, but I never played in the middle before now. And I'm loving it. You're right in the middle. Scott had a thousand tackles every year, so hopefully I can follow that trend.''

Not only was Gunn ecstatic to be back on the field, but Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt, the staff and his teammates were thrilled as well.

"He just brings a sense of leadership and confidence that you need to have,'' Wannstedt said. "Right now, we've got Max Gruder (at WLB) and Greg Williams (at SLB), redshirt sophomores, two young kids on both sides of him. So, it's nice to have leadership, but even more than that his experience in the middle.

"You're always concerned about an injury like that, but you just need to have faith in your doctors. They're going to be overly cautious with that, but he's done a great job with his rehab. And everybody's very confident that he's fine. ... Of all the positions on the team, you'd like to have somebody who's played before. So, from that standpoint, too, it's good to have him back.''

Gunn, who described himself as the happiest man in the world right now, was extremely thankful for the opportunity play college football again. And just to prove those muscles around his neck, shoulders and back are strong, Gunn is all too glad to take on additional responsibilities this season.

"It's my responsibility as a sixth-year player and team leader to really help Coach Wannstedt develop high-character guys and strive for success each year,'' Gunn said. "Coach Wannstedt's done a great job since he's been here. We've continued to climb up that ladder, and we have to continue this year.

"Every single person I talked to said I wasn't going to get (the sixth season), but I always tried to stay as optimistic and as positive as possible. It was out of my hands and up to the NCAA, and luckily, thankfully, they granted it my way. I was sitting at home, doing homework, and Coach Wannstedt called me.

"He said, 'Hey Adam, guess what?' And I said, 'no way.' We both just started laughing after that in disbelieve,'' Gunn added. "I started running around the house after that. ... I could be cleared to go now, but just for precautionary reasons we're waiting until July 1. So, basically, I'll be doing everything except full-speed contact until then. After that, we'll go from there.''

When Gunn was cleared to work out, he began training for Pitt's Pro Day -- which was held Tuesday afternoon -- with hope of advancing his career in the NFL. But three weeks ago, he got the call from Wannstedt and "jumped back in with the team and got going again. Adrenalin overcame everything today.

"I forgot my neck was broken,'' Gunn added. "Just the excitement to get out there. So, hopefully, it stays that way. It'll be a little different when we get the pads on, but we'll see. I just have to keep getting reps and get the feeling back.

"I'm looking down at guys who were in the seventh grade when I was a senior in high school, so it's different. But I'm getting used to it. It's my responsibility to lead, and that's what I'm going to do.''

Gunn began last season as Pitt's strong-side linebacker and took the field at 230 pounds. He weighs about 225 now, but hopefully by the time the season gets here I'll be at 235.

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