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Gross working way back from neck injury

Issac Gross had some pep in his step Thursday.

Ole Miss’ defensive tackle can’t hit anybody yet. He likely won’t be cleared for full contact until after spring practice, but this is as active as Gross has been in seven months. Wearing pants and a practice jersey, Gross shadowed his fellow defensive linemen throughout drills, joking, leading and giving out instruction at times to some of his younger teammates.

It’s not where Gross wants to be following a neck injury that nearly ended his senior season before it started, but it’s progress on his road to recovery.

“I got my helmet Monday and put it on for the first time since UT-Martin of last year,” Gross said. “It was just amazing to me, you know. Being out of this game and having something that you love and are so passionate about taken away from you, it’s a blessing to be back out here.”

Gross underwent mid-level neck fusion surgery just weeks after the Rebels’ season opener against UT-Martin on Sept. 5. The injury stemmed from a bulging disc he had during the 2014 season, but he took a hit against the Skyhawks that “just went on and knocked it out all the way completely out of the column and spiked the spinal cord,” Gross explained.

The pain, which Gross described as an amplified crick in his neck, was excruciating and consumed Gross’ thoughts as he sought relief. It even had some of his coaches fooled.

“I remember when I first did it, (defensive line) coach (Chris) Kiffin used to get on to me about going to sleep or whatever in the meetings,” Gross said. “I was like, ‘Coach, I really ain’t going to sleep. I’m sitting here and the agony of it, it irritated me so bad that I’d get dizzy and watch the film. I can’t hold my head up.’”

Bulking up
The 6-foot-1 Gross elected for surgery, taking a redshirt to return for a fifth season. Most of his rehab, he said, has consisted of rest, but playing at 230 pounds before the injury, he turned his attention to the weight room once he was cleared to start lifting again in order to put on as much weight as possible to better handle the rigors of life in the trenches in the Southeastern Conference.

Gross has been productive despite his small stature, recording 111 tackles and six sacks in his first three seasons. He said he’s up to 260 pounds and looking to pack on some more.

“I’ve been in that weight room day in and day out with our strength guys and talking to (strength and conditioning) coach (Paul) Jack(son) about different things I could do and talking to (head athletic trainer) Pat (Jernigan) about different things I could do,” Gross said. “The main thing is I’ve just been doing lots and lots of back and shoulder workouts, trying to put as much muscle as I can around it.”

Gross said he got the final X-ray on his neck done Monday with doctors telling him that everything is healing properly. When Gross will be fully cleared medically isn’t known, and neither he nor doctors want to rush it.

“You don’t want to play with it,” Gross said.

The objective is to get back to being his old disruptive self with a few tweaks.

“I already told Kiff I want to be back to the 2012 Issac when I had the techniques down pat and I just had football skills just right there,” Gross said. “I want to be more efficient with my hands so I won’t have to make that (head) contact every play.”