One year later, one bad hit later, teams had visions of Williams again





DEAN RUTZ / THE SEATTLE TIMES
Washington players raise their helmets as Stanford's Simba Hodari is taken off the field at Husky Stadium in an ambulance. Tests showed Hodari had a concussion, not a spinal injury as had been feared.


It happened again, at almost the same time in the game, in almost the same circumstances, with the same two teams.

A strong safety pursuing a running play was hit hard and landed motionless on the field.

And the training staff circled the injured player, cautiously administering to him. And the stadium fell ghostly quiet again. And the players knelt in prayer. And the game, for those next 10 minutes, lost all of its significance.

For Washington and Stanford it was eerily familiar.

Last year, with 2:01 remaining in the third quarter, Washington's Curtis Williams suffered a spinal-cord injury that left him paralyzed after hitting Stanford running back Kerry Carter.

Yesterday, with 1:34 to go in the third quarter, Stanford strong safety Simba Hodari hit the turf and did not move after Charles Frederick's block at the end of a 6-yard scramble by Washington quarterback Cody Pickett.

And, almost instinctively, the Washington players huddled together, as they did last year, and held hands.

"I just kept saying, 'Move a foot. Move a hand,' " Washington nose tackle Larry Tripplett said. "Just let us know everything is OK. All I could do was replay what happened last year."

Jamaun Willis led a team prayer. And after the prayer, the Washington players raised their helmets in the air. The sun sparkled off the gold.

"That play took me right back to Curtis," said Washington linebacker Anthony Kelley. "It was the same thing that I had seen with Curtis, so I immediately thought the worst."

Medics cut the facemask off Hodari's helmet. They peeled off his shoes and socks. They gave him a quick list of questions to test him neurologically. He passed the initial tests.

The Husky Stadium crowd began to clap rhythmically. Washington Coach Rick Neuheisel reported to his players that Hodari was able to move his feet.

Hodari's injuries aren't as severe as Williams'. A CT scan taken late yesterday afternoon at Harborview Medical Center was normal.

The Stanford senior suffered a severe concussion, but there appeared to be no damage to his spinal cord. He was kept overnight for observation.

After Hodari left for the hospital, the players honored him the only way they knew how. Washington and Stanford played another memorable fourth quarter, and the Huskies made another Yankees-like rally to win, 42-28.

"It was an important game today, but it was just a game," Kelley said. "There are more important things in life than this football game. That injury that Curtis sustained I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy.

"For that play today to take me right back there was kind of traumatic. But when I saw him move his feet and when Coach Neuheisel told us he just had a real bad concussion, it kind of eased my heart a little bit."

The memory of Williams' injury hadn't faded, won't ever fade, from the memory of the Washington players. The trauma they felt that day is part of their subconscious. They will take it with them into old age.

"I even remember the scenery, everything around it," Washington strong safety Greg Carothers said.

They all know the risks. Every player knows, every day in practice, every Saturday afternoon on the field, every time he chases a play, or reaches for a pass, every time he throws a block, or sets his feet to pass, he is risking serious, life-altering injuries.

And every time he runs onto the field, he is able to file that knowledge somewhere deep in his psyche, forget it for the afternoon and play this dangerous game.

"It's hard. Sometimes it does get to you. I mean Curtis' injury really did something to me," Kelley said. "But when you're going 100 miles an hour and you're doing your assignment, you really can't think about it. It's a risk that we take. This is a game of risks, but as long as I know that the man next to me is willing to take that same risk, it doesn't make it better, but it makes us go out and play a little bit harder.

"Curtis really represented that. I mean, he definitely put his life on the line for us. He didn't want anybody to run the ball on us, so he would be there every single time to try and stop it, no matter what. He always sacrificed his body, in whatever manner, to stop the run."

After Thursday's practice, Williams, as he has several times this season, talked to his former teammates by speaker phone from his brother David's home near Fresno, Calif.

The players listened quietly, digesting every word, listening to every syllable, looking for clues that Williams is making progress.

"Every time we talk to him, it sounds like he's getting better and better," Kelley said. "It gives us a lot of hope. This game was especially important for us because of him. This is the game where we lost him, and we wanted to come out with a victory to show him we still remember him."

They remember. They never will forget.

Steve Kelley can be reached at 206-464-2176 or at skelley@seattletimes.com.

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