Sept. 14, 2009
By John Denton
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Rocky Ross and Cory Hogue sat together in a hospital room early last October, desperately hoping for another chance to play football and hoping together that their careers wouldn't end like this.
Ross, who shattered his collar bone in his left shoulder and needed season-ending surgery, commiserated with Hogue, who needed surgery on both ankles for compartment syndrome, a condition that caused severe pain and swelling in his lower legs. Ross' shoulder was heavily bandaged and he was medicated for pain, but he was at least mobile, so he'd often wheel his IV cart down to Hogue's hospital room and two would talk about how much they missed football. In a way, they were each other's crutch by helping prop up the other's dream that they would someday play again.
``We were pretty much roommates in the hospital and when we weren't sleeping or knocked out by the medicine, we would hang out,'' Ross said. ``At the time, we didn't know the rules and didn't know if we'd get our redshirt so we could play again. We didn't want our last seasons to be just three games.
``Being injured is different and I think you go through emotional stages,'' Ross continued. ``I had never been hurt like that in my life and had never missed a practice or a game since I started Pop Warner. First, you're frustrated and you're wondering, `Why me?' Then, you're sad that you're not out there. That's when your family and friends come into play. We helped each other.''
These days, no one appreciates being back on the field more than Ross and Hogue, both fifth-year seniors after they were granted medical redshirts by the NCAA. And through two games, both Ross and Hogue have made the most of their opportunities. Ross, a wide receiver and punt returner, leads the team with 10 catches and 141 yards. And Hogue, the anchor of the defense at middle linebacker, has a team-high 16 tackles in two games.
Ross and Hogue's longevity with the UCF program - they were among head coach George O'Leary's
first full recruiting classes - often leads to good-natured ribbing from their teammates, but both Hogue and Ross say that it's worth it to be back among their teammates again.
``I hear it all - eighth-year, 10th-year senior, old man,'' Hogue said with a laugh. ``It never stops, but that's OK.''
Added Ross: ``They tell me that I was here before Coach O'Leary. But my favorite one was that I'm so old that I recruited coach (Tim) Salem to UCF.''
Hogue and Ross can laugh about it now, but last season was no joking matter for either player. Hogue, a Naples native, began experiencing pain and swelling in both legs prior to last season and pools of blood started forming in his lower legs. He missed the opener, returned for three games, but soon the pain and swelling returned as well. Eventually, surgery was prescribed on both of Hogue's lower legs and both fascia tendons were cut open to relieve the stress and swelling in his legs.
``The first time that it happened it was hard because we didn't really know what it was,'' Hogue said, referring to the pain in his legs. ``I came back and then in the UTEP game the same type of pain kept happening and I couldn't believe it. They told me that I had to have surgery and that I was done for the year. There was just a lot of pain and my legs were all swollen up.''
Ross suffered a similar fate in the UTEP game, getting flipped on a pass route and landing grotesquely on his left shoulder. His left collar bone was shattered, requiring corrective surgery. These days, he is reminded of the injury every time he looks at the massive scar across his shoulder. But it was the pain of being away from the game and his close friends that stung him most.
``I was forced to take an outside look at it and it made me realize what life would be like without football. I didn't like that feeling at all,'' admitted Ross, a Jacksonville native who has 130 career catches. ``This year, I came back feeling like I had a second chance in a way. You look at everything different. You remember what it's like to not have football and you don't want that ever again, so you try to make the best of everything.''
A sense of relief came last December when both players learned that they would be allowed to return for a fifth season. Now, they are trying to make the best of their second chances at their senior seasons.
`` When we were in the hospital we talked about what would happen if we got to play again,'' Hogue remembered. ``We couldn't wait to get back and help the team. That's what we're trying to do this season.''
John Denton's Knights Insider runs each Monday, Wednesday and Friday on UCFAthletics.com. E-mail John at firstname.lastname@example.org.