Duke draws inspiration from injured WR’s fight

For hospitalized Duke receiver Blair Holliday, every incremental

step toward a normal life represents a victory. For himself, and

for the Blue Devils football team.

Holliday suffered severe head injuries during a serious

watercraft accident over the summer.

Now the Blue Devils are drawing a season’s worth of inspiration

from him exchanging fist-bumps with concerned teammates. Talking to

his coaches by phone for the first time since the accident. Taking

his first steps on his own. And now, a quicker-than-expected

progression toward outpatient care.

”Perseverance more than anything else – knowing what he’s been

through and what he’s seen, that he’s pushing right along through

it and he’s getting better every day,” left tackle Takoby Cofield

said Tuesday. ”It’s just showing you it takes a special person to

be him, and it takes a special person to do what he’s done, and it

shows that it’s something within all of us and we can accomplish

anything.”

Holliday has been hospitalized since the accident nearly two

months ago, when he and teammate Jamison Crowder were riding jet

skis on a lake in central North Carolina and they collided.

Holliday was airlifted to a local hospital and was in critical

condition at UNC Hospitals before he was transferred in early

August to the acquired brain injury unit at the Shepherd Center in

Atlanta.

Coach David Cutcliffe said he and some staff members are flying

to Atlanta Wednesday for their first visit since his transfer.

Three days later, Duke opens the season against Florida

International in what likely would have been the first career start

for the sophomore from Sherman Oaks, Calif.

So in the locker room beforehand, Cutcliffe vows not to waste

his breath on any win-one-for-the-Gipper speeches.

That would only trivialize Holliday’s plight.

”It’s kind of different than that. This is more important,”

Cutcliffe said. ”Blair’s more important than just kind of rallying

the emotions of a game to them. This is a serious consequence and a

serious circumstance, so he’s in their mind all the time. No

question. So I couldn’t use the term `rally’ because he’s always

there.”

Just as Holliday remains on the players’ minds, his number will

be on their helmets.

Duke has placed stickers bearing his jersey No. 8 on the backs

of everyone’s helmets as a reminder.

”He can’t be here with us exactly, but we’ve got him here at

the same time and we know he’s going to be watching and see us,”

Cofield said. ”Just represent him, because he can’t be here with

us.”

Holliday’s progress has been steady. Shortly before his transfer

to Atlanta, he recovered well enough to exchange fist-bumps with

teammates, nod when he was asked questions and smile in recognition

of his father’s voice. After the move, and on the second day of

preseason practice, Holliday spoke to Cutcliffe and his staff by

phone for the first time.

Last week, Cutcliffe said Holliday was walking on his own. The

coach added Tuesday that Holliday is preparing to move to an

outpatient program.

Running back Josh Snead said he and some teammates had a recent

chat with Holliday via webcam and ”he sounds almost normal.”

”We just want Blair to be able to be healthy, to walk and talk

and be able to do things on his own,” Snead said. ”That’s all we

want. If he’s able to come back and play football, that is great.

But as his teammates and his brothers, we want him to be able to

function as normally as possible.”

On the Net: http://www.blairholliday.org