RETURNED After 35 months of rehabilitation that included more
than two dozen surgeries, 15 prosthetic legs and three
courage-related sports awards, San Jose State special teams
player and amputee Neil Parry. With 13:20 left in last Thursday's
42-30 loss to Nevada, Parry, 23, a fifth-year senior, ran onto
the Spartan Stadium grass as a member of the punt-return unit. On
the same field nearly three years earlier, in a game against
UTEP, Parry was covering a kickoff when he planted his right leg
just as a teammate was blocked into it. His right fibula and
tibia were fractured so badly that the bones punctured the skin.
Nine days later doctors amputated the limb about seven inches
below the knee.

Among the 10,173 in attendance Thursday was Parry's brother,
Josh, an Eagles fullback who was Neil's teammate in 2000 and was
on the field when Neil got injured. "I took it hard," says Josh,
who contemplated quitting football. "But [Neil] flat-out said,
'Keep playing for me.'" Neil kept going too. After regaining the
40 pounds he lost following the injury, he started training in
the spring of 2001, becoming so comfortable on his prosthesis
that he could run a 4.9 40. (He ran a 4.7 before the injury.)
Parry planned to return last year, but nerve problems led to his
25th surgery last February. He began practicing six weeks ago and
his performance persuaded coach Fritz Hill to let him be the
first non-kicker amputee to play in a Division I game.

Parry entered the game, wearing his three-pound, carbon-graphite
prosthesis, in the fourth quarter when the Spartans defense
forced its first punt. He didn't block anybody on the return,
making his comeback a touch bittersweet. Asked if he felt like a
fully-able player, Parry said, "Yeah, I do. I just feel like a
real football player that didn't do his job." He should be able
to rectify that. Says Hill, "He'll get to play a lot."

--John Walters

COLOR PHOTO: BRAD MANGIN (PARRY, 2) COLOR PHOTO: BRAD MANGIN (PARRY, 2) WALK ON Parry has been eyeing a comeback ever since suffering hisinjury.

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