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The simple act of putting on his uniform and pads, something he'd done countless times before, brought a wave of emotion over Brouce Mompremier before last Saturday's game against Syracuse.
Less than a month earlier, the South Florida linebacker wasn't sure he'd ever play football again. For a couple of tense hours, he wasn't sure he'd walk again.
Mompremier suffered a scary neck injury when he endured a head-first collision with teammate Carlton Williams in a Sept. 20 game at Florida International. He lay motionless on the turf for several minutes, was taken away on a stretcher and taken by helicopter to a hospital. Teammates and fans feared the worst.
"I was really scared," he said. "Flashing through my mind was, how am I going to live the rest of my life?"
He briefly couldn't feel his arms or legs while he was down on the field. By the time he got to the hospital, he said, he had regained all his feeling and started to calm down. He was released from the hospital the next day with a sore neck and feeling "like there were shocks in my arms."
"I had to drive back to Tampa that day, and the drive was pretty hard for me with all the bumps in the road," Mompremier said.
For a couple of weeks, the senior figured he was finished with football. But he met several times with doctors who assured him that he'd incurred no long-term damage and was no more at risk going forward than any other player.
He slowly returned to practice and went through his first live contact drills the week before the Syracuse game.
"When that happened, I started to think, 'I can do this again,'" he said. "I felt real confident."
The emotion of all he'd gone through hit him in the locker room before his first game back. He said he felt "weird" and tears welled in his eyes. He finally got back to normal when he delivered his first hit of the game.
"That was a great feeling," said Mompremier, who had three tackles in South Florida's 45-13 win. "It felt like I never left."
Having Mompremier back at his usual linebacker spot is a boost for the No. 16 Bulls (6-1, 1-1 Big East), who travel to Louisville this weekend. The defense is getting back to full strength after losing several key players to injury, like defensive end George Selvie and nose tackle Terrell McClain. They showed what they could do when healthy and together in that second half against Syracuse, when they held the Orange to just nine total yards and no first downs.
"It's great to have Brouce and everybody else back in there," linebacker Tyrone McKenzie said. "They're all a big part of this team, and our team is as strong as the weakest man on the field."