Spring marks return for injured Trojans

This spring ball period will mark the return of several injured Trojans, some of whom have been out of action for almost two years. Not all the injured players will be able to go through full contact drills but several of them should be able to participate in limited action.

On the offensive line, it seems like we have been waiting forever for a chance to see a healthy Jeff Byers in action and now it appears as though we will have that chance in the spring. Jeff got playing time as a true freshman (including four starts) and then missed the next year with a hip injury. He played in the season opener last year against Arkansas, and had a memorable downfield block late in the game, but then suffered a back injury which kept him out the remainder of the season. After a long rehab, Jeff is now healthy and excited about returning to the field.

"I'm feeling great, school is going great, football is going great. I can't complain about anything," says Byers. "I'm just trying to get my legs back and I'm working hard with Carlisle at 6am every morning. Just trying to get back in the groove."

When asked about which position he would play in spring (guard or center) and how much he would be able to participate, Byers had the following response:

"As far as I know, I'm doing everything and I'll play wherever they want me to play. I have no preference where I end up. I just want to be on the field if I can be and do my thing."

On the defensive side of the ball, there is another player who has been out of action for two years and that is safety Will Harris. When Will came in as a freshman, he was moved to corner during fall camp in order to compete for a back-up role with fellow freshmen Kevin Thomas and Cary Harris. Despite the fact that Will was new to the position, by the time the end of fall camp scrimmage came around at the Coliseum it was Will who was the first freshman in the rotation. Unfortunately, he sprained an ankle in that scrimmage which caused him to miss six games and then a knee injury forced him out for the rest of the year after only appearing in three games. He was scheduled to return in 2006 but another injury to the same right knee (torn ligaments while playing pick-up basketball) forced surgery and he sat out another year. Now, Will is back and more than ready to get on the field.

"Words can't explain it," said Will with a broad smile, when asked if he was excited to get back to playing this spring. "I'm at 90-95% right now and I'm rehabbing with the goal of being out there competing with my teammates. I've been cleared to take part in all contact drills except for the team drills. I've also been up every day watching film to be mentally prepared. I'm ready, I believe that."

A pair of first-year players who have battled injuries are linebacker Josh Tatum and running back Stafon Johnson.

Tatum sat out as a redshirt last fall while recovering from a knee injury suffered midway through his senior season. He also missed much of his junior year in high school due to a shoulder injury. As one could imagine, Josh is extremely anxious to get back to playing football after missing so much time in recent years.

"I can't wait, I'm so excited," said Josh. "I'm not sure how much contact I'm going to be able to have in spring but I've been out here every day doing all the running and conditioning with my teammates and I feel great. I just did 455 pounds on the bench press and that tied a mark set by Junior Seau and I also did a 36.5 vertical leap. I figure if I can do a vert like that, the knee has to be in pretty good shape."

Stafon had surgery January 2nd on a dislocated left shoulder and that has to be a very tough injury to play with for a running back. There has been much message board speculation and discussion about Stafon after a true freshman season that saw him limited to three carries in a single game but there are still many (including this writer) who think his future is bright as a Trojan tailback. Stafon will be held out of contact drills in the spring to protect the shoulder and he is taking a mature approach to the situation.

"It is what it is," said Stafon. "I would love to be on the field competing all out but I can't because of my shoulder. Everything else is going good though and it's just a matter of getting my shoulder right."

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