Walking tall after surgery, Granger says NFL dream remains
BY JOHN E. HOOVER World Sports Writer
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
8/19/09 at 2:19 PM
Related story: Practice Report: Oklahoma.
NORMAN — As the sun sets behind Memorial Stadium and the skies grow dark, DeMarcus Granger is shifting his weight, leaning against a light pole. The questions never seem to stop, and Granger has just endured a two-hour practice in the searing Oklahoma heat.
Still, with beads of sweat trickling down his round face, Granger smiles throughout the interview. He doesn't seem to mind. Not after what he's been through.
Granger, a senior defensive tackle on the University of Oklahoma football team, says he's fully recovered from offseason back surgery. That's good for the Sooners, who lack experience behind starters Gerald McCoy and Adrian Taylor. The last two seasons, Granger has rotated in with McCoy and Taylor, and now only career backup Cordero Moore, redshirt freshmen Stacy McGee and Casey Walker and true freshman Jamarkus McFarland are behind them.
But Granger won't fret about it. He continues working at a measured pace that ensures both the safety of his repaired spinal cord and his physical conditioning and body weight.
"Some plays it looks like, 'There goes the old DeMarcus,'" he said. "And then some plays you can tell I still have a little ways to go."
Granger said he was born with a narrow spinal cord, but didn't know it until his junior year in college.
"No room for my nerves to breathe," he explained. "They went in and scraped a little bone to give my nerves a little more room to breathe. I feel great."
He said he's been playing football since he was 7 years old and never had a serious injury before he broke his foot at Washington last season. He missed only two games with that injury, but kept noticing his back was always sore.
"It started out as a pain that would come and go," he said.
"My pain never was aggravating until I had to sit out a game. Everything was manageable. Just one of those days, it got to the point where it never went away.
"It escalated to the point where I couldn't take it no more."
It wasn't just football. With a back injury, there are few everyday, routine or mundane tasks.
"This is a pretty big campus. Walking from one end to the other, I would feel it. Like, 'Oh, I might have to sit down every now and then,' " he said. "Now I walk through campus nonstop to get to my classes. You can just feel the difference."
Granger was warned of the dangers of back surgery — "they make you sign those (medical release) forms anyway, even if you're going to get your teeth whitened," he said — but also was apprised of the possible rewards, such as walking across campus without pain, and even maybe playing football again.
"I've still got dreams of playing in the NFL and I'm going to go for it full-fledged," he said. "I don't want this back pain to hinder me. Of course it's going to be a tag, but I want to be able to show people that it helped me more than it hurt me. I don't want to ever sit back and be like, 'What if?'"
The surgery wasn't elective. It was strongly recommended, he said. So he Granger had the operation before the team left for Miami to play Florida in the national championship game. A healthy Granger might have been helpful as the Gators scored on two fourth-quarter drives to break out of a 14-14 tie and win it 24-14.
Missing the national championship game was painful, he said, but something that he keeps in perspective.
"It's just a thing, you've got to look at the bright side: I can walk," Granger said. "Surgery could have went wrong and I could be paralyzed."
The year before, Granger missed the Fiesta Bowl because he had been arrested for shoplifting two days prior. In that game, West Virginia rushed for 349 yards and won 48-28. OU coach Bob Stoops said that night that Granger's absence was being overvalued, but clearly, a 6-foot-3, 330-pound run-stopping defensive tackle would have helped.
Now, Granger wants to complete his college career the right way — in a bowl, with a victory, and a possible national championship.
"It'd be great," he said.
"It's just, some people go through things that make them stronger physically, I think I'm one of those people that has to go through a lot of things to see how much it truly means to you. With the surgery and the other things that happened, I feel like I've grown as a man. It'd be amazing to finish my senior year off, my last go-round here, in a bowl game, and win a bowl game. It'd be great. Icing on the cake, basically."
World Sports Writer Guerin Emig contributed to this story
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Oklahoma defensive lineman DeMarcus Granger (right) takes on offensive lineman Trent Williams during practice Monday. Granger says he is recovered from offseason back surgery. Jerry Laizure/For the Tulsa World
OU defensive tackle DeMarcus Granger takes a break during a recent practice. Jerry Laizure/For the Tulsa World