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September 25, 2008CORVALLIS, Ore.- At some point in time Thursday night, 10 years of college experience and plenty of heartbreak will line up on the field at the same time on the outside.
Oregon State wide receiver Sammie Stroughter and Josh Pinkard will break from their respective huddles and line up against one another.
Literally, it won't be that far of a walk. Figuratively, though, the journey's taken plenty of turns.
Stroughter has battled a lacerated kidney and a severe case of depression to get back on the field. Pinkard's had to overcome devastating ligament injuries to his knee in consecutive years before being able to suit up for the top-ranked Trojans.
Pinkard's injuries, much like Stroughter's situation, have impacted the players and coaches around him.
"I'm so excited about the way he's been preparing and his attitude," secondary coach Rocky Seto said. "I think he really appreciates the chance to play. It's not that the other guys don't, but he really understands more just how precious it is to play football here at USC."
Pinkard suffered an injury late in the Trojans' season opener at Arkansas back in 2006. After recovering from the torn ligaments in his right knee, Pinkard tore ligaments in his left knee before the 2007 season began.
The process took its toll on Pinkard, with things like practice being too difficult to watch. Defensive end Kyle Moore, Pinkard's friend, knew his teammate was hurting.
"It wasn't fun watching him," Moore said.
But the injuries changed Pinkard.
"Josh takes on the job with a very mature outlook. He was a classic young player in some regards because he was playing and doing well early in his career. I think he appreciates every aspect of it now," USC head coach Pete Carroll said. "He was really just playing on raw athleticism before. Now, he's learned to apply himself, study and involve himself in the game plan at a much greater depth than when he was a young player."
Pinkard knows he's changed too.
"It changes your perspective. You can't take things for granted. You play harder because you never know when your last play could be," he said. "You grow up. It something you have to live through. You have to deal with it.
"There are people around who help you get through the process, but you have to take it upon yourself to grow up and take those next steps."
Pinkard will start at cornerback for the Trojans (2-0) Thursday when they face Stroughter and the Beavers (1-2)` at Oregon State.
Stroughter's problems began before he suffered serious injury.
"This guy is upbeat and happy, and all of a sudden, it wasn't like that," Oregon State head coach Mike Riley said.
Stroughter missed practices and meetings. People looked for Stroughter and couldn't find him. He went home. He came back.
He sometimes went to practice. A lot of times, he didn't.
Stroughter eventually would be diagnosed with severe depression, and one game into the 2007 season, he'd return. After a big game against Idaho State in front of a home crowd, Stroughter lacerated a kidney at Arizona State.
Now, though, Riley said Stroughter is back to being his old self - smiling, vibrant and leading.
"Sammie, with what he's been through, has gained a greater awareness as a young person about life," Riley said. "And, it's made us all more aware that things can happen to anybody."
Thursday when the two take the football field, it'll be more than just a match up. It's an example, Riley said, about healing, triumphing and living.
While the two will likely battle on the field, it appears their biggest battles are behind them.