Grit & Determination payoff

Lake Forest - Marc Colombo could scarcely catch his breath, and he was dripping with sweat, but he was also smiling. <P> He had just finished his first practice in almost two years.

"Obviously as you can tell I'm a little winded right now," the 6-foot-8, 330-pound Colombo said. "It's going to take a few practices, but I think I did some good things today and we'll see where it goes from here."

On Nov. 18, 2002, Colombo suffered a dislocated left kneecap while starting his fifth straight game as a first-round rookie left tackle. Since then he's known nothing but surgery, rest, rehabilitation, disappointment, waiting and wondering.

But through a procedure that lasted twice as long as it should have, Colombo said he never lost faith, exactly what would be expected from a die-hard Red Sox fan.

"If you know the type of person I am, you know I would never think that," said Colombo, who turned 26 on Oct. 8. "This is what I want to do. My heart is into football. This is what I want to do for the rest of my life, or as long as I can.

"I worked my butt off every day, and I knew eventually I was going to get my chance. I never thought in a million years it would last so long, but here I am still young and I have a long career ahead of me."

Colombo still has a long way to go before he becomes a starter again but that's his eventual goal although neither he nor the team has any timetable in mind. Qasim Mitchell is the starter at left tackle, and the 24-year-old has played well this year.

"We don't really have any major plans," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "The initial plan was just to get him back out there on the field to see exactly where he is, and he's passed that test. Marc is a guy with a lot of confidence. He knows he's a good player and he feels like he's back. The long-term plan of course is to get him out there. We don't know exactly when that will happen."

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