NATIONAL NOTEBOOK: Dortch starts

Tyrell Dortch didn't gain 100 yards last week. He didn't catch a touchdown either. But after all he's been through, the Michigan State running back will gladly accept 58 rushing yards on 16 carries.

In 2001 as a sophomore, Dortch saw action in the first six games of the season, bouncing between cornerback and tailback. But in the sixth game, against Wisconsin, Dortch broke his leg when he jumped to thwart a 30-yard touchdown pass from Badger quarterback Jim Sorgi.

When he landed, his right foot stuck in the artificial turf. All his weight came down on his right leg. His leg buckled and Dortch snapped his right tibia and fibula.

Doctors rushed the the injured Dortch to Wisconsin's University Hospital, but the emergency medical technicians hesitated to give him morphine. Eventually, Michigan State orthopedist Dr. Herb Ross intervened and gave Dortch the shot.

"The guy said, 'You're not licensed in this state,' " Ross told the Lansing State Journal. "And I said, 'No, but I have compassion in this state.' His adrenaline was so high, it was like an injury in combat. It must've hurt like hell."

After four operations and 16 days in the hospital, Dortch was on his way to recovery. But there were still many times when he feared he would never play again.

Whenever the doubts crept into his head, though, he found inspiration in others who had gone through a similar situation. He thought of Penn State sophomore Adam Taliaferro, who managed to walk again after shattering a vertebra in his neck. He thought of the San Francisco 49ers' Garrison Hearst, who recovered from an ankle injury after missing two seasons.

Dortch summed up his recovery to The Capital Times in one word: "Faith."

"It's 99 percent mental," he told The Capital Times. "If you tell yourself you're going to do it, you will do it. I'd be cheating myself not to go hard every day."

After testing the repaired leg out in practice, Dortch was finally ready for game action last Saturday against Western Michigan. After a year of excruciating pain and rehab, Dotch started the game.

"It really is a blessing to be in the position I'm in right now," Dortch told BigTen.org before the game against Western Michigan. "Last year, I would always stare at the football schedule hanging on my wall in my bedroom, and get depressed. It killed me not to be out on that field. I definitely appreciate the game of football a lot more than I used to."

In addition to his 58 rushing yards, Dortch also caught three passes for 38 yards. But most importantly to him, he's playing football again.

Kicked the habit

Michigan State quarterback Jeff Smoker returned to the Spartans last Saturday after recovering from a substance-abuse problem last year. In his first start back he led them to a 26-21 victory over Western Michigan in East Lansing.

Smoker was kicked off the team last year with five games remaining. In his absence, MSU struggled.

Smoker was reinstated in August after undergoing rehab and participating in 6 a.m. workouts supervised by new MSU coach John L. Smith.

With his offensive production Saturday (21-of-34 passes for 324 yards and three touchdowns), Smoker became MSU's all-time leader in total offense. After the game, he directed the marching band in a postgame salute.

"Getting up on that ladder was the coolest thing I've ever done - except waving the flag after the Michigan game (in 2001)," Smoker told the AP. "But that's college football. There's nothing like it."

Sidelined superstar

Ohio State star running back Maurice Clarett will no longer be permitted to practice with the team, Buckeye coach Jim Tressel announced Tuesday. Ohio State athletic director Andy Geiger had said Friday that Clarett was allowed to practice with the team while he waited for the NCAA to rule on his suspension, but Tressel had other plans. The Cleveland Plain Dealer reported Saturday that the suspension would be six games for violating NCAA rules and giving false statements to campus police.

This and that

Last week's No. 15 team in the country, Maryland, dropped out of this week's USA Today/ESPN coach's poll after losing to Northern Illinois 20-13 in overtime ... The annual Blue-Gray All-Star Football Classic, which was not played last year, will return this Christmas Day at a new location - Movie Gallery Stadium at Troy State University.

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