Let's take a short break to pay tribute to a terrific player whose career was cut short. His stat line will never turn heads. In his career, he caught 58 passes for 863 yards and 5 touchdowns. He also ran for 166 yards on 24 attempts, and scored one touchdown on a kickoff return and returns punts.
As observers of SEC Football know, however, stats don't tell the story with Tyrone Prothro. It's hard to conceive how Urban Meyer can say of a wide receiver with such modest stats, "He was the best player in the SEC." I have no link for that quote, but I remember him saying it on TV. Of course, the context of that quote was that Prothro had suffered a horrific injury in a game against Florida. A game that just so happened to probably be the best game he ever played, and the signature win of Mike Shula's coaching career. Prothro caught 5 passes for 134 yards and 2 touchdowns in a 31-3 road win over a highly ranked Florida team.
As most of you probably know by now, Prothro's career came to a semi-official close this week as he was taken off of his athletic scholarship and placed on a "medical" scholarship. I had never heard of a "medical" scholarship before this, but here's what I know. If a player is physically unable to play because of health issues, he can be kept on scholarship without counting against the team's scholarship limits, but in order to return to the football team, he has to get special permission from the NCAA. The purpose of the NCAA review is to prevent schools from abusing the rule to effectively increase their scholarship limits.
If you're on a medical scholarship, it is to be expected that your career is over. Prothro is a 5th year senior now, but could conceivably apply for a 6th year of eligibility and attempt to return next year, but this development seems to signal that is very unlikely.
I first remember Prothro from the 2003 season. I personally thought Bama's receivers were second rate, and the biggest weakness of the team. Mid-season, Mike Shula introduced the undersized true freshman into the lineup, and I thought he quickly became better than the two seniors who had been starting at receiver. One was Triandos Luke, and I don't remember who the other one was. He was small, but had good hands and was dangerous in the open field. He was still a true freshman, and not a fully-developed player yet, but you could tell he was on his way to being a very good player.
In 2004, his receiving stats were held down by the fact that Bama's starting QB, Brodie Croyle, suffered a knee injury early in the season. The Tide never found a competent quarterback the rest of the year, and was reduced to a pure running team. Despite this, and despite his modest 347 yards receiving, he was named a 2nd team All-SEC wide receiver at the close of the season.
In 2005, his season was of course cut short by his horrific injury, but not before making one of the great catches you will ever see against Southern Miss (it won an ESPY) and leading his team to a glorious victory over Florida. He returned to the playing field a few times, always an emotional scene, but when I saw him last year still noticeably limping, I had a pretty good idea he would never be able to return to playing effectively.
Now, Prothro has to look to his post-playing-days life. Sadly, the NFL does not await him, but he may be able to develop a nice career in coaching. EVERYONE in Alabama and a lot of people throughout the Southeast would bend over backwards to give Tyrone Prothro a chance to do whatever he wants in life. He could walk into any SEC coach's office and be accepted as a grad assistant coach today. At a very minimum, the Crimson Tide network of graduates will take care of the guy. I'd like to see him in coaching, personally.