A false start. That's not the way Adam Gunn wanted the first play to go during the initial Pittsburgh training camp scrimmage this week. The moment was to mark a triumphant return for Gunn, who suffered a broken vertebrae in his neck during last year's season opener.
Gunn's health and playing career were in jeopardy after the injury. He had to be cleared medically and by the NCAA, which had to grant him a sixth season of eligibility, for him to play this season. All that fell into place, as his surgery and rehabilitation were successful, and the NCAA made him a sixth-year senior.
But a false start penalty on the first play. After all that Gunn endured the past year. That was rather anticlimactic.
"I was so ready to go, and we had to line up again,'' Gunn said. "After the next snap, Bill Stull gave the ball to Dion Lewis up the middle, and I met Hynoski in the hole. He said I hit him pretty good, so I feel good about that.''
Pitt fullback Henry Hynoski told a slightly different story.
"I thought I gave him a pretty good shot,'' Hynoski said. "But he stuck his nose in there, so I have to give him credit for that.''
That should be no surprise to anyone who knows Gunn. A tireless worker and solid performer before his injury, Gunn also is an honor student with a bachelor's degree in communication and rhetoric and in December, he'll have a master's in public administration with a focus on profit management.
This is a kid who always seemed to have his head on straight. That's why a dust-up with the law earlier this year was difficult to understand. But he eventually was exonerated and has his football career back on track as well.
"I waited all camp for that scrimmage, and I was definitely anxious the whole day,'' Gunn said. "We had the morning practice, but we didn't do much. Then, we had some meetings and stuff, and as it got closer I was getting more eager to get out there and go full speed for more than five plays at a time.
"It really felt great to not hold anything back at all. In talking with our doctors and training staff, they said I should have no worries. There's less of a chance for me to fracture my neck or get another serious neck injury than there is for anyone else on the team after my surgery and rehab.''
Gunn had two vertebrae fused in his neck, and after the rehab the area is actually stronger than before. And now that the first hit's out of the way, it's full steam ahead for Gunn from his spot as Pitt's starting middle linebacker.
"Adam didn't look tentative at all in the scrimmage, and he's had a good camp so far,'' Pitt defensive coordinator Phil Bennett said. "So, we look for him to keep progressing. Don't forget, this is a new position for him, so he's still learning some things. But there has been a good carryover from the spring.
"He's a different type of player, of course, than Scott McKillop was for us. He can help us in the pass game a little quicker than Scott, but he's not the run-stopper that Scott was at the end. But Scott improved his pass coverage, and I'm sure through hard work that Adam will get there in the run game.''
Since his future was in doubt for a while and Gunn is thankful just to be back on the field again, his goals are modest for this season.
"I just want to be an effective leader this season,'' Gunn said. "That's probably the main goal for me, because I've been around a while and can help the young guys get through camp and the season when it starts to grind. And that will happen. It can get pretty tough, so I have to help the guys push through it.
"And we have a really good group of seniors to help me, some strong leaders and good players, so I have no doubt that this team will stay on point. This is a big year for us. We were good last year, but I think we can be even better and more successful. Win more games, win the Big East, go to a BCS bowl and win that. Those are our team goals for this season.''
Some might believe that Gunn would rather take some time off during camp, his sixth at Pitt, since he's been through all this before. But that's not the case.
"I love every second of it,'' Gunn said. "I try to go through every day with a smile on my face and be thankful because I didn't have to get this opportunity. I know I was very fortunate, from a health perspective and with the NCAA.
"I could have a 9-5 job right now, but there's going to be plenty of time for that down the road. So, right now, I'm just happy to be playing college football. I'm not looking any further down the road than that first game.''
Let the anticipation begin.
Pitt's Gunn Loaded And Ready To Go
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