By Compiled by JOANNE KORTH
© St. Petersburg Times, published August 24, 2000
GAINESVILLE -- When senior Zac Zedalis thinks about the pain he felt last season, the worst was the stinging criticism from coaches and teammates.
By comparison, bee stings were nothing.
Zedalis, a preseason All-Southeastern Conference center last season, was expected to miss no more than four weeks after tearing the medial collateral ligament in his left knee in the 1999 opener against Western Michigan. He didn't play another down.
His rehabilitation was excruciating and yielded no results. Teammates whispered. Trainers doubted his toughness. Coaches questioned his character.
"It hurt to see coaches walk by and say, "Is this guy soft? He's not what we thought he was,' " said Zedalis, one of the team's most aggressive weight lifters. "It hurts to have your pride and integrity questioned every day."
Desperate, Zedalis resorted to the therapeutic power of bee stings, the medicinal value of which has been the subject of recent studies.
"You catch them and grab them by the back of their wings and put them on the spot you want healed," Zedalis said. "Then you thump them in the head until they get angry and they sting you. I did it on my shoulder before, when I had tendinitis. It fixed my shoulder, but obviously it doesn't work on torn MCLs.
"Everybody thinks I'm an idiot for doing it. But when you come to the end of your rope and you see your season drifting away, you'll try anything to get back out there."
Finally, an MRI revealed Zedalis had a rare condition, Pellegrini-Stieda disease, in which the body gets confused and forms bone rather than ligament tissue. The rehab would be lengthy, but Zedalis wasn't satisfied to let his body correct its mistake by waiting for the bone to dissolve. He broke it apart by lifting weights, a towel stuffed in his mouth to muffle the screams.
"It felt like my knee was ripping apart, but I had to do it," he said.
Nearly recovered from a preseason procedure to repair a lateral meniscus tear in the same knee, Zedalis hopes to practice next week and play in the Sept. 2 opener against Ball State. But he does not feel vindicated.
"Now I'm considered injury-prone," said Zedalis, who started 10 games as a sophomore in 1998. "I'll be very glad when these questions are over and we can talk about an SEC championship."
The Swamp is considered one of college football's most hostile venues, but fans will have little to get worked up about this season. Of the six teams coming to Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, none finished with a winning record and two failed to win:
2000 Opponent 1999 Record
Ball State 0-11 Middle Tenn. State 3-8 Kentucky 6-6 Louisiana State 3-8 Auburn 5-6 South Carolina 0-11 Total 17-50
Now that former UF receiver John Capel is headed to the Olympics, tailback Bo Carroll is arguably the nation's fastest college football player. Carroll, a senior, finished fifth in the 100 meters at the NCAA Track and Field Championships in 10.24 seconds. UF's Bernard Williams won in 10.03. There were five football players among the 16 fastest qualifiers, but only Carroll and Southern California starting tailback Sultan McCullough made the final. McCullough finished eighth in 10.38.
"We haven't played like we did in 1996. We don't hardly score 50 anymore in a conference game. We used to ring up 50 against a lot of conference teams."
-- Coach Steve Spurrier on the erosion of the Gators' mystique
Freshman offensive lineman Max Starks -- possibly the biggest player in UF history at 6 feet 8, 340 pounds -- is too big for Nike. The company does not make shoes large enough for his size-19 feet. Contracted to provide the school's athletic apparel, Nike is hand-making a pair of white cleats for him.
WHO: Ball State.
WHAT: Season opener for both.
WHEN/WHERE: 6 p.m., Sept. 2; Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, Gainesville.