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High school football: Return to coaching speeding up recovery for Carey

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Time supposedly heals all wounds, but it's symptomatic of Bruce Carey's personality that he can laugh about the incident that turned his world on its ear in 2008.

"I thought the doctors were joking when they said, 'With some luck you might be able to walk again,' " Carey said this summer while watching his Robert C. Byrd football team take on rival Bridgeport in a 7-on-7 passing tournament at Fairmont's East/West Stadium.

With a chortle typical of the coach who led Bridgeport to the 2000 Class AA state championship, the Class AAA playoff semifinals in 2009 and 13 consecutive playoff appearances in as many years on the Bridgeport sidelines, Carey described how it has actually been a return to the game that has sped his recovery from a 2008 spinal aneurysm that left him partially paralyzed and pulled him away from the game after the following season.

Carey woke one morning in late 2008 unable to feel his lower torso. He has been undergoing physical therapy since, although he acknowledged that until recently he had experienced mixed results.

"I wasn't doing too good. I wasn't going to therapy and I just wasn't making as much progress as I wanted to," Carey said. "Before I took this job I had to think about whether I could really do it, because I didn't want to do it halfway.

"Once I started, though, it helped with my recovery. I started going to lifting and getting into watching films and I felt better. It gave me a reason to get out of the house. Once I started doing that, I started feeling better.

"When I started feeling better, the more I wanted to do it. It really became something that fed off itself."

Carey returned from the injury in 2009 with the aid of a golf cart, and he coached one of Bridgeport's best teams in recent memory to a semifinal showdown with South Charleston at Laidley Field. It was his last game with the Indians, and resulted in a 28-25 Black Eagles win, their narrowest margin of victory in the playoffs en route to a second consecutive state championship.

He had told his players before that game it would be his last. As he held court outside the Indians' locker room on the north side of University of Charleston Stadium, he acknowledged that development to reporters and well-wishers who thanked him for his service and success. He compiled a 125-31 record at Bridgeport after taking over from Mountain State prep coaching legend Wayne Jamison in 1997.

The golf cart remains, but gone are his direct ties to Bridgeport High School. A Clarksburg native and a graduate of Liberty (Harrison), Carey steps back into the game at Byrd, the 1996 consolidation of former Bridgeport rivals Washington Irving and Roosevelt-Wilson that instantly became the Indians newest and biggest rival.

Also gone from Carey's repertoire is the stick-I offense synonymous with Bridgeport football for more than 40 years.

"I love a lot of the stick-I stuff," Carey said. "I love power football. I love running the ball, but we've got some guys who I want to do more with, use some more play-action stuff with. When you run the stick, there's only about two or three passing plays you ever use. I want to do more."

A key element to Carey's new fondness for the passing game could be 6-foot, 175-pound sophomore receiver Ben D'Annuzio, one of a number of underclassman standouts within a program that has played without a freshman or junior varsity team for the past two seasons.

That's a trend that has quickly changed after the school's coaching change. Former Coach Josh Gorrell, who took over the Eagles program when former Coach Bryan Fisher left for Fairmont State in 2010, joined his former boss with the Falcons after Byrd lost to Bridgeport in the first round of the 2011 Class AAA playoffs. The Eagles finished 6-5.

"We've had 25 freshmen lifting since I got there in April. They're by far our biggest group," Carey said.  

The Eagles, who are among six schools dropping from Class AAA to Class AA this season, had just 10 freshmen in the program in 2011. Meanwhile, senior two-way lineman Teague Wagner (6-3, 270) looks to be Byrd's marquee player in Carey's first season with the team.

Carey's familiarity with Class AA - Bridgeport competed in the division for seven of his first eight seasons as a head coach - and his young, talented roster have helped rekindle an excitement for coaching that Carey said he has not felt in some time.

Part of that excitement is undoubtedly tied to his continued recovery.

"By next summer I plan to be walking without the cane," Carey said, lifting the metal walking aid into the air as he spoke. "That'll make a lot of this stuff easier for me because I'll be able to get around more and be out there more."

By the look of Byrd's young roster, Carey will have plenty to work with as his recovery continues. Byrd opens the season Aug. 24 at home against Fairmont Senior.

Contact Preps Editor Derek Taylor at derek.taylor@dailymail.com or 304-348-5170.


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