PULLMAN – There are three times each year Paul Wulff really worries – when his players are driving home at winter break, spring break and the end of the school year.
“It’s always been an issue with me,” Washington State University’s football coach said Tuesday. “We always have a team meeting before all those. It’s one of the main things I say every single time, I say, ‘Guys, drive safe.’
“It’s a standard thing for me, because it’s on my mind. It’s on my mind when they come back to campus and when they leave campus as a group.”
Wulff’s worst fears were realized last week when one of his players, defensive lineman Cory Mackay, was involved in a single-car accident en route to Redmond, Wash.
The 6-foot-4, 257-pound freshman, who redshirted in the fall but put himself in the mix for a starting spot with a strong spring, had finished his first-year finals Thursday. Like hundreds of other Washington State students, he was headed home that evening.
He reportedly dozed off at the wheel of his pickup just west of Washtucna a little after 5 p.m. The truck rolled and Mackay, who was wearing his seatbelt, suffered a spinal injury that necessitated three hours of surgery Friday at Seattle’s Harborview Medical Center to fuse fractured vertebrae.
Mackay’s father, Don, told the Seattle Times the damage to the spine was “minimal” and Cory has “tingling” in one leg.
“When they push him, he can feel it, probably kind of an electric shock-like feeling,” Don Mackay said. “So he’s encouraged by that.”
“I’ve talked with (Don) three times,” Wulff said. “As they’ve gathered information on his injury and the severity of it, the prognosis of it, I think they’re being very optimistic and they’re very positive about being able to walk and be a normal person again.
“And I think Cory is very driven to be back on the football field again some day.”
But the nature of Mackay’s injuries – the spinal cord was not severed but suffered trauma from the bruising and stretching in the accident along with the swelling that occurs after the surgery, Wulff said – means he won’t be back in pads in the near future.
“My only feelings have been for him and his family,” Wulff said. “To be quite honest, and I know this sounds strange, I haven’t even thought more than a second about the football loss of it for our team. I just haven’t. … It’s not the most important thing, so I haven’t let myself go there.”
Though Mackay has.
“Quite frankly, (Cory) wants to get back on his feet,” Don told the Times. “He doesn’t want people ‘pre-assuming’ that he might not. He’s in good spirits. He says, ‘I’m going to beat this thing and I want to start working on it right away.’ ”
Cougars assistant coach Mike Levenseller was in the Puget Sound area Friday and he visited Mackay at Harborview that day. Defensive line coach Malik Roberson rerouted a flight home to stop by. And teammates, including Logwone Mitz, who also lives in Redmond, have visited often.
“The dad said they’ve already been extremely surprised with how much support they’ve gotten so quick,” Wulff said. “It sure helps their spirits.”
They all want one thing.
“Right now, we’re just hoping for the first step,” Wulff said. “And the first step is literally taking a step.”
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