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College Football
Ivan Maisel
August 21, 2000
Healed Heel North Carolina's Ronald Curry is rebounding from a torn Achilles
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August 21, 2000

College Football

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The Comeback Kids

Never mind the Heisman Trophy. There's a bevy of guys who'll be happy just to get back on the field after having their 1999 season cut short by injury. Here are 10-in addition to North Carolina's Ronald Curry-who could make the biggest impact.




Joe Burns, tailback, Georgia Tech

Broken right ankle


The 5'10", 205-pound senior averaged 6.2 yards rushing, 13.7 receiving in '99

Brian Poli-Dixon, split end, UCLA

Fractured right wrist


The 6'5", 216-pound junior could replace Danny Farmer as the go-to receiver

Justin Fargas, running back, Michigan

Broken left leg


The 6'1", 187-pound junior (below) will play both on offense and special teams

Bobby Jackson, safety. Illinois

Torn ACL in left knee


The 6'1", 211-pound junior has two career interceptions, 10 fumble recoveries

William McCray, fullback, Florida State

Broken right leg


The 6-foot, 225-pound junior is a dependable blocker and good receiver

Carson Palmer, quarterback, Southern Cal

Broken right collarbone


USC was 2-0 before losing the 6'5", 220-pound sophomore (1,755 yards in '98)

Phil Petty, quarterback, South Carolina

Strained left knee


The 6'3", 205-pound junior threw for 803 yards in six games last season

Kenny Smith, defensive tackle, Alabama

Torn ACL in right knee


The 6'5", 289-pound senior had nine tackles against Tennessee

Brandon Spoon, linebacker, North Carolina

Torn left biceps


The 6'2", 245-pound senior led the Tar Heels with 138 tackles in '98

Zac Zedalis, center, Florida

Torn cartilage in left knee


The Gators desperately need the experience of the 6'2", 280-pound senior

Healed Heel
North Carolina's Ronald Curry is rebounding from a torn Achilles

Until last week North Carolina junior quarterback Ronald Curry had not seen the final play of his 1999 season, the one on which he tore his right Achilles tendon and put one of the most anticipated athletic careers in Tar Heels history on hold. But on Aug. 10, 10 months and one day after the injury and shortly after Curry had finished the first full practice of his postsurgical life, he sat in a chair on the second floor of the Kenan Football Center and watched the play intently.

Last Oct. 9, in its fifth game of the season, North Carolina led Georgia Tech 7-0 with a little more than 13 minutes to go in the second quarter. Facing second-and-six on his own 15, Curry, then a sophomore, faked a handoff and rolled right on a naked bootleg. Yellow Jackets defensive end Greg Gathers, who had not bit on the fake, came straight upfield toward Curry. "I was looking to throw? says Curry, who had started four games as a freshman. "The coverage was tight. I wanted to eat the ball." Just as Gathers began to wrap him up, Curry took a slight hop to his right, as if he were barefoot and had stepped on something sharp. "It felt like it was going before I got hit," Curry says of the tendon. Gathers knocked Curry flat, then got up. Curry didn't.

"It wasn't a sudden thing," says Curry of his injury. "The tendon had been bothering me since 11th grade. I'm happy that the tear happened so early in my career, rather than my senior year. Now I've got two years to perform instead of playing in pain."

Two years ago Curry arrived in Chapel Hill from Hampton, Va., as the most heralded high school quarterback in the nation and one of the best point guards. Now his former high school rival Michael Vick has become the nation's darling in football and Curry is making his five-step drops at three-quarter speed. Nonetheless, Tar Heels fans are excited about his return to football and the possibility that he could rejoin the basketball team after missing all of last season.

Curry awoke at 6 a.m. on the first morning of two-a-days and "didn't hit the snooze button two or three times, like normal," he says. He arrived 15 minutes early for his 7:15 meeting with new offensive coordinator Mike O'Cain. Curry was even more impressive when he took the field for practice. "He was very fluid, very smooth," says O'Cain, the head coach at N.C. State for seven years before being fired last November. "One time he pulled the ball down and reacted to pressure without any hesitancy. That tells me he has forgotten about his [injury]."

Still, Curry must learn a new, more wide-open offense and work through any fears of taking a hit again before Carolina opens against Tulsa, on Sept. 2.

Curry doesn't appear worried, and neither do his teammates. Middle linebacker Brandon Spoon, who missed nine games last fall after rupturing a tendon in his left biceps, says, "I saw him playing basketball this summer, guarding Vince [Carter, the former Tar Heel and current Toronto Raptors star]. There's only so much tentativeness you can have and [cover Vince]. The first game will be the test. But even if Ronald is only halfway healthy, he can do things other people can't."

TCU's Hei$man Bid
Turning a Frog Into a Prince

Talk about the need for campaign-finance reform. Thanks to donations from a few well-heeled Horned Frogs alumni, TCU will spend $90,000 on a Heisman Trophy marketing campaign for senior tailback LaDainian Tomlinson. According to the marketing plan, Tomlinson's candidacy can "brand the institution on the national level"—or, as athletic director Eric Hyman says, see that TCU's name "will get to every nook and cranny in the country."

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