After 35 months of rehabilitation that included more than two dozen surgeries, 15 prosthetic legs and three courage-related sports awards, San Jose State special teams player and amputee Neil Parry. With 13:20 left in last Thursday's 42-30 loss to Nevada, Parry, 23, a fifth-year senior, ran onto the Spartan Stadium grass as a member of the punt-return unit. On the same field nearly three years earlier, in a game against UTEP, Parry was covering a kickoff when he planted his right leg just as a teammate was blocked into it. His right fibula and tibia were fractured so badly that the bones punctured the skin. Nine days later doctors amputated the limb about seven inches below the knee.
Among the 10,173 in attendance Thursday was Parry's brother, Josh, an Eagles fullback who was Neil's teammate in 2000 and was on the field when Neil got injured. "I took it hard," says Josh, who contemplated quitting football. "But [Neil] flat-out said, 'Keep playing for me.' " Neil kept going too. After regaining the 40 pounds he lost following the injury, he started training in the spring of 2001, becoming so comfortable on his prosthesis that he could run a 4.9 40. (He ran a 4.7 before the injury.) Parry planned to return last year, but nerve problems led to his 25th surgery last February. He began practicing six weeks ago and his performance persuaded coach Fritz Hill to let him be the first non-kicker amputee to play in a Division I game.
Parry entered the game, wearing his three-pound, carbon-graphite prosthesis, in the fourth quarter when the Spartans defense forced its first punt. He didn't block anybody on the return, making his comeback a touch bittersweet. Asked if he felt like a fully-able player, Parry said, "Yeah, I do. I just feel like a real football player that didn't do his job." He should be able to rectify that. Says Hill, "He'll get to play a lot."