May 22, 2008

Woods battles back from spinal injury

Injuries happen. They're often the toll that must be paid on the way to football glory and adulation.

But sometimes the price is so high that it might just be better to walk away, especially if there is a question of whether walking is an option at all.

Oklahoma State sophomore wide receiver Artrell Woods faced that question last July. A freak weightlifting accident left him temporarily paralyzed, resulted in emergency surgery on his spine and rendered him unable to walk for almost two weeks.

Yet he diligently worked his way back and is expected to play when the Cowboys open their season in Seattle on Aug. 30 against Washington State.

That raises a question.

Why?

After enduring the stress, worry and emotional torture of not knowing if you will walk again, why risk a debilitating injury and return to such a violent, sport? His scholarship surely would be honored, so why not just return to school as a regular student and pursue his degree in economics?

Woods didn't even need a second of soul-searching for that answer.

"It's just what I came to do," he said recently from his home in Bryan, Texas. "I just love to play football. It's my life."

Football, which he lists second to God on his list of priorities, has been a part of Woods' life as long as he can remember. As a youngster, he'd watch the Dallas Cowboys on TV and dream of playing in the NFL.

He developed into a star athlete at Bryan High School, and in 2006 received scholarship offers from Texas A&M, Arizona, Oklahoma and Kansas before opting to sign with Oklahoma State.

As a freshman in 2006, he played primarily on special teams and caught two passes. But in the spring of '07, he appeared primed to take on a significant role in the offense; he had 111 receiving yards and scored two touchdowns in the spring game.

Everything changed July 13.

Woods was carrying a barbell with 185 pounds when he twisted his ankle. He fell and the weights dropped onto his neck, dislocating two vertebrae in his spine. He was airlifted to an Oklahoma City hospital. Fusion surgery to repair the vertebrae was successful, but at first, all Woods could do was wiggle his toes.

"I didn't know what was going on," he said. "I was asking myself whether or not I was going to walk again."

He was in the hospital 12 days and did not walk until the day before he was released.

Eventually, he began working to return to the team. This spring, he participated in non-contact workouts.

"I have to do a little more work on my right quad," Woods said. "Other than that, I'm pretty much doing the same thing (as before the injury.)"

Oklahoma State trainer Rob Hunt, the first person to treat Woods when he was injured, said Woods' rehabilitation has been amazing.

"I still can't believe what he has done," Hunt said. "He is going to play this year. It's going to happen. When we walked out of there that night, we were just hoping that he would be able to walk again.

"Now here we are looking forward to him catching touchdown passes this year. It's amazing."

No doubt Woods is an inspiration, but the Cowboys need him to be more than that. Adarius Bowman, last year's leading receiver, has completed his eligibility. Other than Dez Bryant, Oklahoma State returns no receiver who had more than 13 catches in '07.

And in the wide-open Big 12, which last season had eight teams ranked among the nation's top 30 in scoring offense, the Cowboys figure to need all the help they can get to keep up.

"I'm going to play," Woods said. "I just have to get back to full speed."

TRIVIA QUESTION

Name the only conference to have players finish first, second and third in Heisman voting in the same year. For extra credit, name those three players. (Answer at the end of the column.)

TALIAFERRO SCHEDULED TO GRADUATE

Adam Taliaferro, a former Penn State cornerback who suffered a severe neck injury while making a tackle against Ohio State in 2000, will graduate from law school today.

The initial prognosis was that he wasn't likely to walk again. But he was walking on his own five months later.

He began at the Rutgers School of Law-Camden in May 2005, just weeks after graduating from Penn State.

Taliaferro already has taken a job with a Philadelphia law firm and will begin work there in September.

QUICK HITTERS

Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas, named Ray Woodard - a former NFL player and junior college head coach its coach. Lamar revived its program in February and plans to start playing in 2009. Lamar's athletic director, by the way, is former Oklahoma basketball coach Billy Tubbs.

Washington State safety Xavier Hicks, already suspended for the first three games of the season, violated terms of a jail work-release agreement. During a check last week, Hicks who pleaded guilty to third-degree credit card theft and attempted third-degree assault wasn't where he was supposed to be.

Brandon Barnett, a junior tailback at Arkansas, was arrested and charged with contempt of court for failure to pay a speeding ticket. Barnett was pulled over in a routine traffic stop, and a check of his driver's license showed he had a warrant for his arrest for a speeding ticket.

TRIVIA ANSWER

Players from the old Big Eight finished first, second and third in the 1972 Heisman balloting. The winner was Nebraska wing back Johnny Rodgers; Oklahoma running back Greg Pruitt was the runner-up, and Nebraska nose guard Rich Glover finished third.

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.



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