David Wilson will wear shoulder pads for the first time in almost a year on Friday when the Giants have their fourth practice of training camp. All eyes undoubtedly will be on the first hit taken by the running back who underwent neck surgery in January and was finally cleared to return to action earlier this week.
One player in a unique position to appreciate what Wilson is feeling is Mathias Kiwanuka. Like Wilson, Kiwanuka had a neck injury that was thought to be career-threatening. Like Wilson, Kiwanuka returned.
"It's a challenge," Kiwanuka said. "I think any player can tell you the same thing, when you're coming back from an injury, no matter where it is on your body, you tend to favor it. You don't know how it's going to react, you're not sure exactly. You can say all the right things, and you can do all the right things, but until you go out there and actually put someone else on their back, you're not 100 percent sure. For him, I think he's just trying to get ready and trying to get back in there. When he finally gets in there, I think we'll see that he's ready. He's probably farther ahead himself than even he thinks he is."
Kiwanuka said he remembered having to spend part of the 2010 season on the shelf because of his injury. Unlike Wilson, Kiwanuka did not undergo surgery.
"I remember being in his position because you're sitting in this weight room here and all you want to do is to be able to get out on that field and when you finally get that chance you go full speed every single rep and he's listening and being attentive and he's doing every single thing he can do to get back in there," he said. "There's no doubt in my mind that he'll be the exact same player he was before he went down."
Necks are obviously a delicate area. Players risking re-injury to their knees or shoulders aren't necessarily looking at the same drastic repercussions that a neck injury can bring. So why would a person put himself at such risk?
"This is a great opportunity that only comes around once in your life," Kiwanuka said. "You never know how long you're going to be able to play this game. For all of us, when you're forced with considering retirement prematurely, that's a real tough thing and it really makes you reflect on all of the years you put in . . . It's not all that you know but it's the most important thing for you at the time."