Hlas column: Past and present Hawkeyes know concussions all too well

Three years after he was hurt at MIchigan State, Colin Sandeman relates to Damon Bullock's head injury

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Damon Bullock was on his way to becoming a great story before Mark Weisman became a great story.

Bullock had 150 rushing yards for Iowa in its season-opening win over Northern Illinois, and had 77 yards by the second quarter of the season’s third game, against Nothern Iowa on Sept. 15. Then he suffered a concussion, and Weisman has racked up over 500 yards since.

Saturday at Michigan State, Bullock presumably makes his return. He will join other players in that game who have had their own experiences with concussions.

MSU tight end Lawrence Thomas is expected to play today after enduring what was termed a “mild concussion” last Saturday at Indiana. Mild concussions are like minor surgeries. They’re only mild/minor when they happen to someone else.

Standout Spartan defensive end Will Gholston appeared to have been knocked cold during MSU’s last home game, a 17-16 loss to Ohio State two weeks ago. After over a minute of not seeming responsive after colliding with a teammate, Gholson got up and slowly walked off the field.

But ESPN’s sideline reporter said Gholston had the wind knocked out of him. Gholston reportedly passed a concussion test on the sideline, and eventually returned to the game.

What’s remembered most about Iowa’s most-recent game at Michigan State, in 2009, is the last-second, game-winning pass from Ricky Stanzi to Marvin McNutt. But another memorable moment — for viewers, anyhow — came midway through the fourth quarter when Iowa receiver Colin Sandeman was knocked out by a hit from MSU defender Jeremy Ware.

If it wasn’t helmet-to-helmet, it was the next closest thing.

Sandeman suffered a concussion. Ware got a 15-yard penalty, for taunting after the hit. The play defined how vicious the sport can be.

“It seems like every day people come up to me and ask me about it,” Sandeman said this week. “I’m trying to sell my car, and I was at one of the dealerships in town. The salesman looks at me and asks ‘Are you OK?’ Yeah, I’m fine.”

If you haven’t had a concussion, it’s only natural to wonder about those who have. Brain injuries are mind-boggling for most of us.

“The only bad side effect is I got a couple bad grades in a couple classes,” Sandeman joked.

He is a student-student instead of a student-athlete these days. He is a graduate student in Iowa’s School of Art, and is teaching two classes in computer design.

That may not be a typical path of study for a football player, but wide receiver is said to be the most creative position for football players.

“People don’t realize you’re putting in about 60 hours a week in football on top of school,” Sandeman said. “It’s obviously worth it when you hit the field on Saturday.

“But this is a nice change of pace.”

There are no gung-ho defensive players looking to lay you out in most classrooms, either.

“I tell people — and this sounds weird — that it was one of the better injuries I had,” Sandeman said. “Because I don’t remember anything. I woke up, and I felt fine. I walked off the field. I was sensitive to light for a little while, but I felt fine three or four days after.”

But he was held out of the next two games. He returned to contribute to the team, and had four catches for 53 yards in Iowa’s Orange Bowl win over Georgia Tech, then returned for his senior season and had four catches for the Hawkeyes in their Insight Bowl victory over Missouri.

Don’t think Sandeman dismisses concussions lightly from his previous comments here. To the contrary, in fact.

“You’ve got feel for linebackers and fullbacks,” he said. “They just bash each others’ heads in, during practice and in games. What’s scary is, at those positions they get dinged in the head and just think it’s normal.

“The speed in the game has changed so much over the past 10 years. Players are so much faster and stronger. A helmet can only do so much.”

We saw it with Bullock a few weeks ago. We’ll see it again with someone else soon enough.

“If you just stop and don’t think about watching a game but just watch what’s going on (on the field), just watch the activity, there’s really not that much about football that makes sense,” Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said recently.

“Most players that play would all do it over again. Most of us would. It’s just not built for the human body.”

Here’s to Bullock getting the chance to resume his good story. Even better, here’s to him staying healthy.


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