Weightlifting Accident Leaves USC Dazed
A weightlifting accident at USC Monday moved Saturday’s football game at California into the background.
“We’re only concerned with Stafon Johnson and his family now,” said Coach Pete Carroll, who was at the hospital and in no mood to discuss theTrojans’ running back situation.
After dropping a weight on his throat Johnson underwent seven hours of surgery. It’s highly unlikely he’ll play again this season although doctors say he should be able to play in the future.
But there will be a game Saturday and Carroll will have to reconfigure his plans for the tailback position.
Joe McKnight has been starting and most likely will continue to do that. Johnson was the second guy to handle the position. Allen Bradford was next and C.J. Gable, who started most of the games last season, was mysteriously downgraded to fourth string.
If Marc Tyler was healthy he may have been the one to benefit from the suddenly available playing time. But he’s injured and may require surgery.
Then there’s Curtis McNeal, the all-around outstanding player from Venice High who impressed the coaching staff in spring practice but hasn’t had many chances since.
Carroll has been criticized for recruiting too many running backs, but when injuries strike the depth becomes a major asset.
I believe Carroll could choose any three of the six and go through the season with a strong running attack.
But which three?
At Carroll’s weekly media session Tuesday reporters speculated on who would be featured Saturday. Most agreed McKnight and Bradford would get the majority of the carries. In fact, it wouldn’t be surprising if a third tailback isn’t even required.
But it’s possible Gable will emerge from the doghouse he appears to be in. Or McNeil will get his first extended playing time since he came to USC.
As for Johnson, learning more about his accident is gut-wrenching.
“He’s an excellent lifter,” said Carroll. “He could teach the class in what to do, But after he underwent surgery he couldn’t communicate and they weren’t even sure he’d be able to the next day.”
Johnson could communicate the next day but only by writing. He was unable to speak and had a temporary tracheotomy and feeding tube
“Because he was in such excellent condition he was able to undergo all the surgery without stopping,” said Carroll.
“He’s doing as well as expected,” said California Hospital trauma director Gudata Hinika. “The injury was very, very rare.”
The surgery was to repair Johnson’s airway and reconstruct his voice box.
“He was able to stay calm and took instruction very well.’ Said Hinika. “His neck is solid and muscular and he understood his situation. His spirit was good from the time he came in.”
As chilling as the accident was the games will go one, USC plays at California, then has a bye, then plays at Notre Dame.
And others will carry the ball.