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Amputee gets gridiron chance

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SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) — Once Neil Parry found a prosthetic leg as strong as his unwavering desire, it was only a matter of time before the San Jose State football player was back on the field.

Parry's right leg was amputated below the knee after a horrific injury in a game three years ago, and he will play for the Spartans on Thursday night against Nevada.

When he takes the field as a blocker on the punt-return unit, Parry will become one of the first amputees with such a role in a major team sport. But anyone who knows Parry and his devotion to football wasn't surprised by Friday's announcement.

"Personally, I don't think I'm doing something that anybody else wouldn't do in my situation," Parry said. "I just want to play football. Anything inside the white lines is better than a hospital bed, which is where I was three years ago."

Parry's leg was severely broken when a teammate was blocked into him during punt-return coverage in a game against UTEP on Oct. 14, 2000. His leg became infected, forcing the amputation nine days later.

Hours after his leg was removed, Parry vowed to play again. At first, the promise shocked his father, Nick, and his brother, Josh, a former San Jose State linebacker now with the Philadelphia Eagles.

"He's come a long way since he and I were in some real dark moments at Stanford Hospital," Nick Parry said. "He's ready to do this for his school, for himself and for his big brother."

Parry has endured 25 operations since his leg was broken, including a recent procedure to relieve the nerve pain that irritated him while working out last season.

His 2002 comeback attempt was scuttled by that pain, but a new, lighter prosthesis — including a new leg and a more sensitive foot — allows him a full range of forward and lateral motion without any of the discomfort.

"He's never complained once about the whole process," said Mike Norell, president of Norell Prosthetics. "Everything is working the way it's supposed to work, and he's ready to go. ... I feel sorry for Nevada."

Wearing the new leg, Parry returned to practice with San Jose State four weeks ago. He has participated on the scout team during special teams practice, and his progress was more than enough to convince the Spartans' coaches — even though most weren't at the school when Parry got hurt.

"This is not a charity gesture," San Jose State coach Fitz Hill said. "If he can't get the job done, he'll be replaced like anyone else. But I have confidence in him and his desire to play again. It's a wonderful story."

Those watching Parry at practice over the past month found it difficult to distinguish him from his teammates. He moves quickly and easily, and his bulky knee brace doesn't look abnormal on a football field.

San Jose State has supported Parry throughout his struggle, battling the NCAA's insurance company and devoting the school's training staff to getting Parry back in game shape.

"He's been looking solid out at practice, and we feel very comfortable with his ability to compete out there," said associate head athletic trainer Jeb Burns, who supervised much of Parry's rehabilitation.

Parry has received national attention and honors during his comeback, including a visit from former President Clinton. He has resumed every aspect of day-to-day life, from rounds of golf with his father and brother to a summer job installing refrigeration units at local stores.

Parry also hunts and fishes at home in Sonora, Calif, and he plays basketball occasionally. He hasn't tried to dunk again, but he'll give it a shot soon.

Parry gets his greatest joy from returning to the routine of the college football season with his teammates. A fifth-year senior, he's hoping to be a small part of the promising Spartans' run at a Western Athletic Conference title.

"I think the other guys know better than to complain about a sore ankle when I'm around," Parry said with a grin. "It's just awesome to be able to sweat and bleed with the team again."