It's been almost two years and 20 surgeries since San Jose State Spartans football player Neil Parry last played in a college football game. After suffering a compound fracture on October 14, 2000 against the University of Texas-El Paso that resulted in his right leg being amputated 18 inches below the knee, Parry is ready to make his comeback.
The Spartans special-teams player suffered the injury on a third-quarter kickoff when one of his teammates rolled on his leg after being knocked to the ground by a Miners player. Parry's own brother, Josh, then a Spartans linebacker, was so freaked out that he turned away from the scene and walked -- screaming -- toward the Spartans sideline.
Initially, the injury was a broken leg. Then an infection set in, an infection that doctors still can't explain. Eleven days after the injury, doctors said the leg would have to go. Two seasons later, Parry is as determined as ever to get back on the football field.
"I still, to this day, don't know what happened, where it came from," Parry said. "I don't want to dwell on that."
In spite of the diffculties and challenges of the last two years, Neil never relinquished his dream -- to suit up and play for the Spartans once again. Now Parry's dream is about to give way to an almost impossible reality. It's not a case of "if" Parry will return to the field, it's just a matter of when. The junior from Sonora, California has circled September 28 on his calendar for his return to the field. On that day the Spartans will be at home against those same Miners, 16 days short of the two-year anniversary of the injury.
"It's where it happened, Spartan Stadium," Parry said. "It's El Paso. If there's anything telling me when and where, that's it."
The college football world hasn't picked up on the feat yet. But it will. For two years, Parry has said he planned to return. Now there is an anticipated reality to the bravado.
"He's set his mind to it since Day 1, that he was going to return to play," San Jose State associate trainer Jeb Burns said. "Every single step he's taken, his goal is toward that. He functions completely normal."
The NCAA will have to sign off on Parry's use of a prosthetic but there is precedent. The last player to play with a prosthetic leg is believed to be Texas Tech kicker Brian Hall. Hall kicked for three years in the mid-1970s with an artificial foot.
But that was different. Hall was a kicker, football's version of a fragile porcelain mouse. Parry, 6-feet and 180 pounds, intends to return to his position on kickoff coverage, where he came to the program as a walk-on before eventually earning his scholarship. This isn't a stunt. It's that dream morphed into reality.
No one who knows him is doubting Parry. Former coach Dave Baldwin was fired after the 2000 season and has since moved on to become offensive coordinator at Baylor. Head Coach Fitz Hill inherited Parry and his story but is no less amazed than the previous staff. Hill, who is entering his second season as the Spartans head coach, told Parry to go at his own pace, and not worry about trying to rush anything. When he's ready to come back, Hill said he'd find a place for Parry on the football team.
Hill didn't think twice about letting Parry pursue his dream. "When somebody says they're going to do something, no matter what that's my role to support them. I love Neil Parry. This football team needs him and he needs this football program," said Hill.
What ultimately motivates Parry is what motivated him almost two years ago when his life was changed forever. Why walk when you can run? Why run when you can hit? Why dream when you can do? "I just love the game," he said. "Any kind of football. When you're playing in a game, that's 100 times better than anybody can ever tell you. I have to get back and play because I love it."
Whether football is in Parry's future is uncertain. One thing he knows he wants to do is be a motivational speaker. Parry said he would like to go around and speak to high school students about his accident and everything that he has gone through. Hill said he has already let Parry talk to the team. "If you can't be motivated (by Neil), you can't be motivated," Hill said. "You don't have a pulse."
Do you believe in miracles? I certainly do, because Neil Parry is one.
Sources for story: ESPN, Sports Illustrated, Mutual of Omaha, The Spartan Daily and CBS Sportsline.
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