April 02, 2003
Rebels' Claridge eager for action after painful 2002
By Steve Guiremand
LAS VEGAS SUN
Ryan Claridge's right bicep was covered with scratches and bruises following a hard-hitting spring practice this week. And Claridge, a 6-foot-3, 250-pound junior linebacker, couldn't have been any happier.
"It's been a long time," Claridge said. "It feels really good."
Claridge, a second team all-Mountain West Conference pick in 2001 after compiling 71 tackles and forcing six fumbles, had to sit out the 2002 season with a torn abdominal muscle.
The injury, also called a "sports hernia," was similar to one that slowed NBA stars Shaquille O'Neal and Tracy McGrady as well as a number of hockey players. It usually takes about 12 weeks of abdominal exercises and conditioning to overcome, but Claridge took longer.
"No words can explain the pain that you go through," Claridge said. "It's not the physical pain that bothered me. It was the fact I wasn't doing what I love to do. The pain? Yeah, it hurt. But it hurt me more not being on the field and not being with the team and playing in Sam Boyd Stadium."
Claridge was injured in February 2002. He went to Vancouver in July to meet with noted physical therapist Alex McKechnie, who treated O'Neal and McGrady and has devised exercises and workouts to help strengthen the abdominal area.
"If I had had surgery, they would have had to cut both groin muscles and cut my abdominal wall and reattach everything to my pubic bone," Claridge said. "That's what I tried to avoid. Even with my rehabbing, there were still no guarantees that I'd come back and play."
Claridge, with the help of UNLV strength and conditioning coach Mark Phillippi, began almost daily workouts of between two to three hours that McKechnie had devised. They included running and jumping and using elastic bands for stretching.
"Coach Phillippi was with me every day," Claridge said. "He was one of the main reasons I got better. There were days that I just wanted to stay at home. But he'd call me and say, 'Get your bleep up here now!'
"It was tough. There was a lot of time involved on his part. I really thank him for that."
It wasn't until December that Claridge started feeling good again.
"I don't think anybody is 100 percent, but it's close enough and I'm just going to go," Claridge said. "I feel more athletic than before. I seemed a little stiffer when I was a sophomore and a freshman. Now I feel like I can cover better.
"I'm excited for myself but, more important, I'm excited for this team. We've got a lot of people back and we look pretty good. Hopefully, we can put it together."
Interestingly, two Rebels defensive ends, Chris Eagen and Pete Dunbar, are out this spring with similiar injuries.
"They have a variety of it," Claridge said. "Luckily, they're catching it in earlier stages. Unfortunately, I was kind of like the guinea pig. I was the first lab rat that got all the testing up in Canada. Now we know how to rehab it. Working with Coach Phillippi, he'll have those guys back playing again in no time."