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September 29, 2009The mood around Heritage Hall turned slowly from uncertainty to hope the day after learning of Stafon Johnson's injury. Johnson, who had a bar fall on his throat during weightlifting, was awake Tuesday and communicating non-verbally after undergoing seven hours of surgery at California Hospital.
Concern for Johnson's well being has been prevalent among the Trojan players and coaches since learning of the injury. Pete Carroll was adamant however, that the team's priorities are straight.
But in light of the injury, the senior tailback's presence on the team has been felt beyond the football team.
"We're connected," Pete Carroll said. "This is a very tight program and a very tight team. Stafon's been a spiritual leader and a leader on the field in all ways for a long time here and a beloved guy. So this is something that does affect (the team). We all will feel it for some time."
The incident was much more personal for safety Will Harris, who was one of the players working out with Johnson when the injury occurred.
"We were working out together while it was happening and then it happened," Harris said. "One minute we were just laughing and talking about how good everything was and now we're talking about how we have to pray for him because he almost lost his life."
The news of Johnson's successful surgery was a relief to many of the players.
"It's a blessing," Harris said. "It could have been worse, he could have lost his life. We're just taking it as a blessing. Thank god it isn't that way and we're just going to keep rallying around him and supporting him."
With heavy hearts, the team has turned its attention to the game plan for California. Despite a 42-3 loss against Oregon last week, California remains a dangerous foe.
"We know quite clearly about their system and the potential of this program," Carroll said. "Their quarterback is good. Kevin Riley's playing really good football for them. Jahvid Best is a fantastic player. Their scheme and everything about them is just frontline championship style."
Carroll's task of keeping his player's focused on the task at hand is a difficult one. How well he does won't be known until Saturday.