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Consider him recovered

Devin Kennedy has gone from a hospital bed to the end zone in less than a month.

By MIKE READLING

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 12, 2000


TAMPA -- When Plant's season started five weeks ago, few people outside of the south Tampa campus had heard of running back Devin Kennedy.

My, how things change.

Since then, Kennedy has become well known to countless doctors around the county, high school football fans, especially the Sickles defense, and, if head coach Darlee Nelson has his way, Sports Illustrated and ESPN.

Not bad for a junior just trying to win a couple of games.

It all started after Plant's first game of the season at Leto on Sept. 8. Kennedy had just finished rushing 23 times for 268 yards and three touchdowns. And he was sore.

"I really felt like my body ached after that Leto game," Kennedy said. "There was a lot of pain, but I didn't think anything of it.

"I thought it was normal football aches."

Then came a headache, and Kennedy's back started to hurt. He started feeling more and more sore as the weekend passed. Monday, he tried to practice but was too hurt to do anything. Tuesday, he went to the doctor.

After some blood work, Kennedy's doctors in Brandon sent him to St. Joseph's Hospital, where more doctors performed a spinal tap, diagnosed him with viral meningitis and admitted him for three days of antibiotics and IV's.

Suddenly, not only was Kennedy's junior season in jeopardy, but thoughts of scenarios far worse crossed his mind.

"They're doing spinal taps, which really hurt, and saying meningitis. I thought I was going to die," Kennedy said. "I thought I was done for the season for sure."

Instead, he was released, missed the Panthers' next game against Blake and was told to sit out the Panthers' third game, gaining an extra week's rest. Nelson played his top rusher against Jefferson two weeks ago but used him sparingly, hoping to give Kennedy a chance to get back some endurance.

"I didn't run him that much against Jefferson," Nelson said. "Meningitis is a very serious condition. When you hear something like that, you think of an Alonzo Mourning in the NBA (who was recently diagnosed with a kidney ailment). He's in great physical shape, just got back from the Olympics, and he may not play.

"As strong and powerful as the human body is on the outside, it's just as fragile when something like this happens."

Kennedy's body is apparently back to full strength -- inside and out.

Friday at Sickles, he carried the ball 17 times for 308 yards and five touchdowns. It was one of those night's a running back has once in his career, where the holes are bigger and there are arrows on the field telling him where and when to make his cuts.

It was one of those nights that rarely occurs three weeks after lying in a hospital bed wondering what is going to happen next.

It was one of those nights that Kennedy can use to prove to everybody -- himself included -- that viral meningitis is a thing of the past.

"I felt good. I didn't know I had that many yards," Kennedy said. "I wasn't even tired."

Nelson has been coaching for 18 years. He has coached players like Donald Caldwell, considered one of the best Hillsborough County has ever produced, seen amazing performances.

Never has he left the field and started to look for the e-mail addresses of places like Sports Illustrated and ESPN.

He did that Monday.

"I have never seen a night like Devin Kennedy had Friday," Nelson said. "Everything he touched seemed to turn to gold. If he's got the surrounding cast, and I'm not taking anything away from (Gaither running back) Lydell Ross, but Devin is not too far behind him.

"And he's only a junior."

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