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Thursday, Apr. 14, 2011

Auburn football: Tigers linebacker Jawara White finds hope during his recovery

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Coming back from surgery on spinal cord

By ANDY BITTER

abitter@ledger-enquirer.com

AUBURN, Ala. -- Jawara White hasn’t hit a soul this spring, still recovering from surgery last fall to remove excess fluid from his spinal cord.

That means no contact and, until recently, no helmet for the Auburn linebacker.

He never has been happier to be able to do so little.

“It felt like a sigh of relief that I’d be able to practice,” the redshirt freshman said. “A couple months ago, I wasn’t sure I’d ever be able to play again. It’s one of those things I have to thank the man upstairs for.”

It’s been a trying year for White, a 6-foot-1, 233-pound thumper at linebacker who signed out of Troy in 2010.

He suffered a concussion during two-a-days last August, but an MRI revealed a much more significant problem: extra fluid on his spinal cord. It would require surgery. Suddenly, his football future was in doubt.

“As the doctor kept talking to me about it and explaining it, I felt like I lost a part of me,” White said. “I had a million emotions running through my head all at once. What do I do from here? I came to school to get an education, but football is in my heart. I love it. I want to get my education, but I want to play football at the same time.”

Although he was walking around the day after the surgery in September, White didn’t regain full rotation of his neck for a month or two. He resumed jogging two to three months afterward.

And he had inspiration during the recovery. White went to Troy’s Charles Henderson High, the same school as former Auburn safety Zac Etheridge, who had surgery to repair a cracked vertebra and torn ligaments in his neck after a frightening injury against Mississippi in October of 2009.

“Zac helped me out a lot,” White said. “Me and him kind of grew up together, came up form the same background.”

Etheridge wore a stabilizing halo around his neck for months after his surgery. He wasn’t cleared to return until last summer, getting his first contact in August and reclaiming his starting safety job by the season opener.

White, who said he is ahead of schedule in his recovery, hopes for a similar timetable. He hasn’t had any contact this spring but has been in uniform, doing non-contact drills with the rest of the linebackers while learning the intricacies of the strong-side position behind projected starter Daren Bates.

After going helmet-less during the first part of spring, White has been allowed to wear one again, even if he can’t hit anybody.

“Obviously, we have to be very judicious and aware of how we move forward,” coach Gene Chizik said, “but our medical staff does a great job of weaning guys into a position to hopefully get them ready to play again.

“I think he has made major strides in that regard, just being able to put a helmet on and just being able to wear some shoulder pads and just get his body physical and really his mind ready to take the next step, whatever that may be.”

White, whose focus this spring has been to regain his quickness and slim down from 233 to 225 pounds, hopes to be cleared for contact during two-a-days, with his sights set on being 100 percent healthy for the season.

Whether he can play remains to be seen. Regardless, he has a new outlook on life.

“I learned to take nothing for granted, appreciate even the small things in life,” White said. “Just waking up and being able to put on your own clothes. From that day forward, I just got up every morning and thanked God for being able to do small things.”

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