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More than a game, more than an offensive lineman, the Terps lost their captain Saturday when Andrew Gonnella dislocated his left knee. It's the end of Gonnella's Maryland five-year career that began in 2007 when he made the team as a walk-on, and now ends as the senior anchor to the offensive line.
In the fourth quarter of the Georgia Tech game, Maryland driving to close the 21-10 gap, the pile collapsed back onto Gonnella's leg, and like a wishbone, he went in one direction and his leg went into the other. "I realized the bones were in two directions and something was wrong," he said.
Carted off the field, Gonnella watched as the Terps completed their drive before being rushed to an Atlanta hospital. In the emergency room, the near-300-pounder made it clear to his doctors not to inject him with anesthesia until the game ended. Gonnella's persona, says his head coach, is the reason why he loves coaching.
"His whole attitude and what he represents and what he stands for and how plays the game, how he approaches life—that's a joy for me," Randy Edsall said. "That just brings a smile on my face. Here's a guy that comes into the office and he's ready to go play right now. He comes in on crutches and he's got the knee brace on and his legs all swelled up…That's what you want as a leader and as a captain."
Gonnella spent two days in Atlanta before returning to the suite Monday evening. When he returned, the first thing on his agenda was to inform his roommates of how he pushed through the insane volume of pain to watch the game.
A.J. Francis said Gonnella boasted that most people usually pass out when they suffer that injury, but he was able to stay up the whole time. "Sometimes he's just sick in the head," he said.
But it's that devotion, that passion – that insanity, if you will – that will allow Gonnella to remain a significant contributor this year, as Maryland still clings to their ACC title aspirations. And he doesn't need to lace up to continue being a captain.
"I love this team. I believe in this team. I'm proud of what we've done this far," Gonnella said with his left leg in a cast and a blood-stained bruise on his nose. "I want to contribute as much as I can to their success and our success, and I'll do whatever I can to help."
Gonnella said he wants to show that despite the situation he's in, he's going to remain upbeat, positive and focused on the next game. When people called to check in on his health, he told them to start breaking down film on Clemson.
Edsall expects that as long Gonnella is medically cleared, he'll be on the sidelines at Byrd Stadium and will travel with the team for the remainder of the schedule. If Maryland needed a sense of urgency instilled in them, there's no story more inspiring than Gonnella's.
"It's literally the worst nightmare of every athlete. You put so much work in for the shortest amount of time of competition and just to have it taken away from you," Gonnella said. When asked what his message to the team would be, he added: "Know how much you love the game and how important every play is, and how important giving everything you got is."
The severity of Gonnella's injury is still unknown; he'll undergo further evaluations in the coming days. If anyone can persevere through this sort of adversity, it's Gonnella, his teammates said.
Joe Vellano, who has battled against Gonnella in practice the past two seasons, said Gonnella is one of the few players who is always eager to practice. He even gets to the field early.
It's that sort of work ethic, Francis said, that'll ensure Gonnella will still be able to have a stamp on this program down the stretch.
"He can get you to believe pretty much anything," Francis said. "He's a hard worker and a lot of guys respect his word because they see his work ethic. There's a lot of guys that respect him as a worker, and then what he says – they take it to heart because of that."
While Gonnella's leadership is irreplaceable, on the field, sophomore Pete White will fill in at left guard. White entered the game after Gonnella was carted off the field, and earlier this season competed to be the team's right guard with Josh Cary. Saturday will mark White's second career start.