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October 10, 2005

Meinrod not giving up on comeback

Just a few hours after his senior season was wrecked by injury, Matt Meinrod already was planning his return.

The senior offensive guard, who went down with a broken left fibula and dislocated ankle Saturday, said he thinks there's a chance he will be back for a January bowl game. And if that doesn't work out, his next goal would be a senior all-star game.

Regardless of when it comes, Meinrod is confident that his comeback will be sooner rather than later. That's why he wasn't overcome with emotion while being carted off the field.

"I knew this wasn't going to be my last football game," Meinrod said. "I have that much confidence in my ability to play at the next level - be it Europe, NFL or wherever. I'm gonna play another game."

Though this was his second consecutive season marred by a significant injury -- he missed most of last season with a torn ACL -- Meinrod said he refused to get discouraged.

"I've never been the type of guy to get too high or too low," Meinrod said on Sunday, his leg in a brace and his body supported by crutches. "For a win, I'm excited, but it doesn't last long. For a loss, the same thing. Injuries are the same way. You can't sit back and wish it didn't happen. It happens at every level - high school, college, pro.

"It's unfortunate, but I know that part of the game. I'm not ignorant to the fact that injuries happen. It's happened before and it can happen again. And when I come back from this, there's a chance that it can happen again. That's just the way it is."

If Meinrod sounds as if he's handling the situation well now, consider his reaction to the initial injury. After his leg was rolled upon during a chase for a fumble, Meinrod knew something was wrong when he felt a burning sensation at the point of impact.

His fears were confirmed when he looked down and saw his left knee pointed in one direction and his foot facing another.

"I looked up to the referee and I said, 'Blow the whistle. I broke my leg,'" Meinrod recalled. "I knew right away."

And it was with the same businesslike approach that the Meinrod's teammates began preparing Sunday to tackle the rest of the season without their best lineman.

Though FSU's coaches honored Meinrod as the team's "top blocker" for grading out highest in each of the Seminoles' first four games, teammates insist that FSU has enough line depth to keep moving forward.

"We're going to miss him, but we're not really going to miss a beat," sophomore guard Jacky Claude said. "We're concerned a little bit, but not panicking."

Meinrod's injury came just as Florida State's offense seemed to be taking flight. After posting 512 yards of offense last week against Syracuse, the Seminoles racked up 587 yards on Saturday. It marked the first time since late in the 2000 season that Florida State's offense recorded more than 500 yards in consecutive games.

"It was starting to come together. It really was," Meinrod said. "We had almost 600 yards of offense. I keep telling you, each week we're going to keep getting better and better."

The Seminoles replaced Meinrod with redshirt freshman Cornelius Lewis in the second half against Wake Forest, but offensive line coach Mark McHale announced Sunday that sophomore John Frady likely will start in that spot this Saturday at Virginia.

Teammates said Lewis played well considering the circumstances, but Frady will give the Seminoles a veteran presence. Though most of his playing time has come at center - including starting assignments during his freshman year and earlier this season - he cross-trained at guard during spring practice.

The down side of that move is that Frady also is the Seminoles' top backup to senior center David Castillo, who has struggled with injuries throughout his career.

"When you've got depth, you can only replenish so many times," FSU coach Bobby Bowden said. "Now you've lost Meinrod and you've got Castillo, who has a history of being out. There are going to be guys who might have to learn two positions. Frady will probably have to play two positions."

And there's an outside chance Meinrod will return at the end of this season. Though doctors won't have a firm estimate on his recovery time until they examine MRI results on Tuesday, the fifth-year senior said he expects to be out eight to 12 weeks, which could make him available for a bowl game.

Meinrod, who is the strongest player on FSU's roster, has shown the ability to heal quickly. After tearing the ACL in his right knee during the season opener last year, he said he could have played in the Gator Bowl less than five months later. He chose not to because he didn't want to jeopardize his health for his senior year.

"Last year, I had a season to look forward to," Meinrod said. "I don't have anything to hold back for. This is make or break."

Meinrod said he already has accepted an invitation to play in one senior all-star game -- the Las Vegas Bowl.

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