Louisville coach Charlie Strong says cornerback Anthony Conner broke his neck when his head hit the knee of Rutgers receiverÂ Mohamed SanuÂ but he isn’t paralyzed. Â Read more after the jump.
Conner was carted off the field Friday night after going down on the first play of the second quarter, and team officials said a few minutes later that the senior was conscious with feeling in his extremities.
Strong said Conner was able to squeeze hands and raised his hand, which made his teammates feel he’d be OK. But the coach found out about the severity of the injury during a timeout late in Louisville’s 16-14 win.
“Anthony Conner, it’s so sad,” Strong said. “Our prayers go out to him and his family, but he ended up breaking his neck.”
Conner came in low to tackle Sanu, and the cornerback flipped the Rutgers receiver. But Conner’s helmet banged off Sanu’s right knee, and he went down on the field. Trainers worked on him for several minutes, strapping him to a backboard. He did move his feet and a hand as he was carted off to an ambulance where he was taken to Jewish Hospital.
“He was talking, and he could squeeze your hand and that was it,” Strong said.
Strong said he told his players about the severity of Conner’s injury a few minutes after the game ended in the locker room.
“When he raised his hand up, they just, they just figured it was OK,” said Strong, who worked at Mississippi the season after Chucky Mullins was paralyzed by a hit Oct. 28, 1989, against Vanderbilt.
“It’s just so tough anytime you lose a player,” said Strong, who kept tapping the side of the podium as he spoke. “It’s what happens in this game, but you just never think it’ll happen to one of your own. For that to happen, it is, it’s sad. I think our players, I told them right after the game. I ended up telling them about it, and some of them didn’t take it very well. The whole team didn’t take it very well.”
Senior linebacker Dexter Heyman called Conner, a starter, one of their great warriors.
“But we’re not going to sit there and feel sorry for ourselves now that he’s out. He’s a great personal friend of mine and he’s a great personal friend of a lot of guys, but at the end of the day we do have football games to play and we do have to go out here and execute and we have to perform.”
The Scarlet Knights all came out onto the field and knelt, watching as trainers worked on Conner. Just over a year ago, many of these players watched teammate Eric LeGrand carted off the field when the defensive lineman fractured two vertebrae tackling an Army kick returner.
With Strong not sharing the news of Conner’s injury with his own team until after the game, the Scarlet Knights likely didn’t hear about the severity before packing up for their trip home.
“They were in the same position last year,” Strong said.