October 23, 2003

Football's Stone Returns from Neck Injury Stronger Than Ever

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Standing at an imposing 6-4 and 287 pounds, it would appear that little could stop senior defensive lineman Mike Stone from being a dominating force on the football field — the quintessential unstoppable power.

But appearances can be deceiving.

For two years, his intimidating, yet calming presence on the field benefited the Cornell football program, but midway through his junior season, Stone found out something new about himself: he’s fallible.

In the 2002 season’s second game, a 50-23 loss against Yale on Homecoming at Schoellkopf, Stone sustained an injury to his neck, one that turned out to be much more severe than it originally seemed.

“I got hurt in the second game of the season, and it kind of carried with me for the next three games to the point where I just wasn’t feeling. I got an MRI and when it came back, the doctor said that if I got hit again, I could die — it was a possibility,” Stone said. “That shocked me. It was a low point of my life.”

“To see a guy who is 6-7 and 290 pounds with tears in his eyes, and they didn’t come from his eyes — the tears came from his heart,” recalled head coach Tim Pendergast. “That really struck me as here’s a guy who cares a lot about football, about his teammates, about Cornell.”

True to his character, Stone did not back down from this tremendous adversity. Slowly but surely, he began to work his way back. Beginning by taking the smallest of steps at first before fully rejoining the pace of college football in training camp this past August, Stone worked his way back to the top.

“The rehab process was pretty much having no one touch me for a year. Then I was here all summer working with the weight training staff, making sure my shoulders and my neck were as strong as possible and as flexible as possible,” Stone said. “Actually the head trainer Bernie DePalma is an expert in the field of nerve and neck injuries. He developed the pads that I’m wearing and whatnot. He knows exactly what he’s doing. It’s worked out better than I ever thought.”

Now back at full strength, Stone is again making an impact on a very solid and tested Red defensive line.

“He’s a physical presence. Guys look at him, he’s a real experienced player, an experienced leader,” said Pendergast. “He’s the type of player that I don’t think ever slows down.”

More than anything, Stone feels he is back in his normal place on the field.

“It’s definitely the high point of my day, being out here with my friends, doing something that I can’t do anywhere else, that I’m never be able to do again after I graduate,” he said. “I love working on the D-line more than anything else. They’re my brothers.”

Archived article by Owen Bochner