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USC running back hurt in weight-room accident

Stafon Johnson has lengthy surgery on his throat after a weight bar falls on his neck while he is bench pressing on campus. He is listed as critical but stable.

September 29, 2009|Gary Klein and Ben Bolch

USC running back Stafon Johnson underwent more than seven hours of throat surgery Monday after he was injured in a weight-room accident on campus.

Johnson, a senior, was in "critical but stable" condition, a California Hospital Medical Center spokeswoman said. His post-surgical prognosis is good, she added.

Johnson, who starred at Dorsey High, was just starting a set of bench-press lifts near the end of a midmorning workout when he apparently lost control of the bar and it landed on his neck, Coach Pete Carroll said.

Johnson reportedly spit up blood through his mouth and nose.

Reserve quarterback Garrett Green and fullback Stanley Havili did not see the accident, but both said they saw Johnson sitting quietly as he awaited the paramedics.

Carroll said Johnson's neck had been stabilized with a brace before he was transported by gurney to an ambulance.

"This is a guy who's been an integral part of our program for years," Carroll said. "Everybody loves Stafon. . . . When you're as connected as we are, we feel every bit of this. . . . We all feel a bit damaged today and injured. . . . It's a bad deal."

Surgery began about 2 p.m., according to family friend John Eatman, a former high school teammate of Johnson's.

Eatman was among about a dozen friends and family members gathered at the hospital Monday evening.

"Right now we don't know anything," Eatman said outside the hospital. "We're just hoping he's all right."

Johnson's mother, Kim Mallory, was at the hospital but declined to comment through a family spokesperson.

Another source close to the family, who asked that they not be identified because they were not authorized to speak on their behalf, said surgeons had planned to realign Johnson's larynx and they were hopeful that he would regain his voice.

The hospital spokeswoman said the doctor said while it is unlikely Johnson will be able to complete the season, he is expected to make a full recovery.

Carroll said incidents such as Monday's were rare.

"With all of thousands of reps that guys take, for the most part, guys don't get injured," Carroll said. "Unfortunately, this one happened today."

USC did not make strength and conditioning coach Chris Carlisle available to the media. However, a news release posted on the school's website said Carlisle was within feet of Johnson when the accident occurred.

Carlisle also said that such a weightlifting accident was rare.

"I've seen players have the bar slip and fall onto their chest, but never in my 25 years of coaching have I heard of someone dropping a bar on their throat," Carlisle said on the website.

Carlisle also said an assistant strength and conditioning coach was acting as a "spotter" for Johnson at the time, but he did not identify the staff member.

Johnson led the team in rushing in 2008 and has been something of a goal-line specialist this season.

He leads USC with five touchdowns and has rushed for 157 yards in 32 carries, a 4.9 yards-per-carry average.

Carroll said junior C.J. Gable would probably move up the depth chart to augment juniors Joe McKnight and Allen Bradford.

"C.J. steps up more and it'll just call on everybody to share the duties a little bit differently," Carroll said.

USC running backs coach Todd McNair said he had not begun to think about the future.

"We're a man down, but I haven't looked at it like that," McNair said.

"I'm just concerned about him and waiting to hear that he's good."

--

gary.klein@latimes.com

twitter.com/latimesklein

ben.bolch@latimes.com

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