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USC football: Pac-10 coaches react to Stafon Johnson's injury

September 29, 2009 |  1:13 pm


News of Stafon Johnson's weightlifting accident, which severely damaged the USC tailback's throat and led to emergency surgery, reverberated around the Pacific-10 Conference today.

Arizona State Coach Dennis Erickson suspected that it was a "freak incident," adding that the weight room is "usually the safest place on campus."

Other coaches weren't as surprised.

"Kids are pushing themselves to the limit in the weight room to get better, so you always have to be concerned," Arizona Coach Mike Stoops said. "You can injure yourself very severely in there."

Johnson was hurt while doing the bench press. The bar slipped from his hands and struck him in the neck, causing damage to his airway that required seven hours of surgery.

The university said an assistant strength and conditioning coach was acting as a "spotter" for Johnson but was not able to prevent the mishap.

By Tuesday morning, Johnson was awake and communicating non-verbally with family and friends. Doctors expressed confidence that he would recover fully.

When it comes to weightlifting, coaches around the conference said they were more accustomed to players overexerting themselves, suffering muscle strains and other soft-tissue injuries. Occasionally, a weight will fall on an athlete's foot.

At Washington, Coach Steve Sarkisian -- a former USC offensive coordinator who knows Johnson well -- said the accident will serve as a reminder that, in general, "you need to use proper technique and you need to have spotters and all the things that go into weightlifting."

-- David Wharton

Photo: Dennis Erickson. Credit: Scott Cunningham / Getty Images