Lyles back on field for Virginia after scary collision

By Mike Medina  |   Friday, August 11, 2006  |  Comments( 0 )

Virginia Cavaliers
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Virginia safety Nate Lyles remembers being carried off the field on a stretcher.

Everyone at that game against Georgia Tech last season recalls how the violent collision brought a frightening hush over Scott Stadium in Charlottesville.

For two silent minutes, Lyles lay motionless on the turf, unable to feel his extremities.

"I was really worried because I couldn't feel any of my body parts, and I wanted to roll over and get up, just like any other hit, and it wasn't happening," he said.

"It was a real concern."

As he was strapped onto a hard stretcher, placed on a cart and wheeled off the field, Lyles gave a thumbs up that drew cheers of relief from the anxious crowd, then assured his mother standing in the stadium tunnel that he had feeling and would be fine.

Now, as the Cavaliers prepare for this season, Lyles' neck brace is gone. He's roaming the secondary and looking to make the next of his trademark big hits.

"I'm feeling good," he said before the start of preseason drills, trying his best to minimize the injury that left him in a neck brace for about three weeks.

"It was kind of like a whiplash," he said recently of the damage done when the knee of Georgia Tech tailback P.J. Daniels made contact with his head. "When (his) knee hit my head, it just basically knocked the alignment of my spine out, I think."

The Cavaliers are glad to have him back, even though he never really left.

"Every practice at which he's been able to be, he's been there," coach Al Groh said of the junior safety. "We offered the option to go home for Thanksgiving or stay at school - obviously he wasn't going to play the next week - and he looked incredulous when I told him he had an option. He was like, `Hey, I'm on this team. I'm staying."'

And stay he has, working tirelessly with the training staff to rebuild his neck strength and physical confidence, as well as to stay connected with the team.

He took part in optional 7-on-7 drills in the summer.

"He's been involved to every degree possible throughout the spring, and progressively so through the summer offseason program," Groh said.

Once known for being one of the hardest hitters in the secondary in the Atlantic Coast Conference, Lyles is eager to become that player again. All the attention to his injury has become tedious, even if it made him understand himself a little more.

"I appreciated football to the Nth degree already, but I guess I thought a lot about the game and what it brings and everything we go through," the 6-foot, 205-pounder from Chicago said of his time away, "and I would say I appreciate it more."

He also knows that his role on the team has changed somewhat, even if he figured that the rehab he went through was standard for a football player with an injury.

"I don't think of how my teammates look at me because this is how I see everybody else," he said. "I look at people and expect everybody else to do the same thing.

"I've seen people over the years get injured and fight back for every second they can. It just the way things go, so I just understood that to be the norm."

The norm now will include mention of his injury, and probably videotape when the Cavaliers' games are televised. But for the guy who stood on the sidelines in a neck brace and then fought his way back through rehab, Lyles hopes that doesn't last.

Or change the full-speed way he plays the game.

The Associated Press News Service

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