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An uplifting return and a season in doubt

By Craig Haley, FCS Executive Director

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Amid the many wins and losses of a season - any season - we're so often reminded that the results take a back seat to the people playing the game.

That has been demonstrated in the Football Championship Subdivision in recent days. Amid the many announcements of who's in at quarterback and who will or won't be available for the fast-approaching season-opening games came uplifting news from Princeton and sobering reality at Grambling State involving a pair of Tigers.

At Princeton, it was stunning to hear that running back Jordan Culbreath returned to the practice field on Wednesday to try to resume his playing career. The 2008 Ivy League rushing champion, his senior season was cut short last year by aplastic anemia, a condition in which his bone marrow stopped producing sufficient new cells to replenish blood cells.

It was assumed by many people that Culbreath's football career was over and that he was focused on his health, not Saturdays in the fall. He faces the possibility of bi-weekly blood transfusions for the rest of his life, so it didn't seem he would be cleared medically to play again.

At Grambling State, 6-foot-4, 265-pound Christian Anthony, the top defensive lineman in the FCS, probably seemed indestructible to most people. But since Anthony first developed chest pains three weeks ago - which basically was determined to be a heart attack - we now see a young man with far bigger concerns than a double-team of blockers.

Grambling State's Christian Anthony is the top defensive lineman in the FCS.
Anthony, a terrorizing end who finished fourth last season for the Buck Buchanan Award which honors the FCS' outstanding defensive player, was hospitalized for several days for tests. He began classes this week, but his future - which had NFL written all over it - seems a lot different now. It would seem his season is over before it began.

"Not a hundred percent (ruled out)," Grambling State coach Rod Broadway said on Thursday, "but it's going to be tough for him. He's supposed to go back to the doctor next week and he'll have a better understanding of where we are.

"It's like everybody else, it hits you after a while because there's a void - that's something you've been doing forever and it's no longer there. He just has to fill that void for the time being and, hopefully, it can be extra academics, extra classes, even come out here and hang out and come to practice, be a part of it. He's still a member of the football team."

Grambling State surely will rally around Anthony whether he plays again or not. Princeton did just that a year ago for Culbreath, with events like a bone marrow drive and other efforts to raise awareness of the disease.

People cared about Culbreath the person, not Culbreath the football player.

And now that Culbreath is running with the ball again, they still care about him more as a person.

"Our PFA (Princeton Football Association) president, Anthony DiTommaso, said that every yard we get from Jordan this year is a miracle," Princeton first- year coach Bob Surace said on Wednesday. "First and foremost, we are thrilled to see Jordan's health improve over the last few months. Regardless of what he does between the lines this season, he is already an inspiration to our entire program."

Best of luck to both Jordan Culbreath and Christian Anthony. May you be All- League, All-America. But let winning in the game of life come first.

Sacks or scores, contact Craig Haley at
chaley@sportsnetwork.com.


Follow Craig Haley on Twitter and Facebook.

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