Wildcats coach can relate to UW’s team tragedy

  • JOHN SLEEPER / Herald Writer
  • Tuesday, October 31, 2000 9:00pm
  • Sports

By JOHN SLEEPER

Herald Writer

SEATTLE – Arizona coach Dick Tomey could tell Washington coach Rick Neuheisel a few things about dealing with team-related tragedy.

While Neuheisel searches for answers about the best way to move forward following the disheartening circumstances of Husky strong safety Curtis Williams, Tomey knows of what Neuheisel and the rest of the team is going through.

In 1995, Wildcats tight end Damon Terrell collapsed during the early days of training camp died a month later. Tomey was told of the player’s death at halftime of a game and didn’t tell his players until after the game.

“As I stood on the sideline the whole second half, I didn’t want to be there,” Tomey said. “I had this in my mind.”

Williams injured his spinal cord Saturday in the helmet-to-helmet collision. He remains at Stanford Medical Center in the intensive care unit, sedated and breathing with the aid of a ventilator. Doctors might not know the extent of the injury for days, weeks or months.

Neuheisel said that the reports he got from Williams’ doctors Tuesday indicated no change in his condition.

Tomey said it is most important for the players to talk about Williams, to get everything in the open and share their feelings.

“We got some experts to come in and talk with our team and talk with us on how to handle it,” he said. “We let our players talk a lot, their feelings, how they felt about him. There was not a moment that went by when it wasn’t on our minds.”

Terrell began football when he walked on at El Camino Community College in Torrence, Calif., where he caught 83 passes in two seasons. He joined the Wildcats in 1994 and caught six passes for 56 yards in a reserve role.

He was penciled in as a starter the next season, but died before he was able to fulfill is promise.

“All of the players looked to him for inspiration and guidance,” Tomey said. “He quickly became one of the most popular members of the team.”

Terrell’s jersey was retired at halftime of Saturday’s game against UCLA.

The Huskies remain hopeful that Williams will recover. A long-term diagnosis might not be possible for some time. Aside from a report of a slight shoulder movement Sunday, Williams has not moved since the injury.

Team physician John O’Kane, who has been in regular contact with Williams’ doctors, said Williams is in a possible life-threatening condition.

“I’m not sure that we can honestly say that Williams is completely out of the woods,” O’Kane said. “He is in the intensive care unit with a very serious injury. People have done very well in that situation and that is what we are hoping for. I don’t think it is safe to predict a worse-possible outcome. I think we have to be optimistic and hope for the best.”

Neuheisel has talked with Penn State coach Joe Paterno, who had a cornerback, Adam Taliaferro, suffer a spinal-cord contusion in a game against Ohio State Sept. 23.

Taliaferro hasn’t yet regained complete motion in his lower body.

  • Going forward: Although no final decision has been made on how to fill Williams’ position, the Huskies had switched Hakim Akbar from free safety to strong safety and inserted true freshman Greg Carothers to free safety. Neuheisel said he would watch film of Tuesday’s practice and perhaps experiment more this week before making a decision.

    Sophomore walk-on Owen Biddle also could get a look.

  • Arnold hurt: Sophomore tailback Paul Arnold didn’t suit up for practice Tuesday because of a back problem for which he saw a specialist Monday. He likely is out for Saturday’s game. Doctors said the only treatment is rest. He could be available for the following game against UCLA, Neuheisel said.

  • Johnson still hanging: Defensive lineman Terry Johnson observed practice Tuesday, but the NCAA Eligibility Clearinghouse still hasn’t reached a decision on whether he can be admitted to school. The Clearinghouse is mulling over Johnson’s high school transcripts. Johnson has moved to Seattle from Chandler, Ariz., but is in a holding pattern until a decision is made.

  • Wildcats struggling: Arizona (3-2 conference, 5-3 overall) has lost its last two games and needs a win in its final three to become bowl-eligible. Besides Washington, it has Oregon State and Arizona State left, both at home.

    The Wildcats had the ball and the lead, 24-21, against UCLA with 4:57 left in the game and lost 27-24. Arizona wasn’t able to get a first down in three tries from its own 36-yard line. Quarterback Ortege Jenkins, whom Husky fans remember for his game-winning flip into the end zone two years ago, threw four interceptions against the Bruins and blamed himself for the loss.

    “He didn’t need to do that,” Tomey said. “I know he feels very responsible, and I feel very responsible. He doesn’t need to beat himself up about it. He just needs to go back to work and improve, just as we all have to do.”

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