DeChon Burns, projected as a starter at cornerback for the USC football team, was advised by doctors Monday to quit the game after injuring his neck last week in practice, Trojan Coach Larry Smith said.
Michael Apuzzo, a neurological surgeon, told Smith that tests taken on Burns, 20, revealed that the sophomore from Riverside would run the risk of paralysis if he continued playing, Smith said.
Apuzzo told Smith that Burns was born with a small, bony spinal column and that through wear and tear from several years of playing football, the area around it had closed tighter.
“You’ve got to look upon it as a blessing that this was found and there isn’t any type of permanent damage,” Smith said. “He loves the game and was looking forward to playing, but football’s not bigger than life.”
Burns, who was a three-sport star at Rubidoux High School, was injured last Thursday after being hit by reserve fullback Ed Chavez, whose block knocked Burns off his feet and onto his back. As Burns landed, his head snapped back and “whiplashed off the ground,” Smith said.
Burns’ absence from Monday’s practices at UC Irvine led to a reshuffling of the Trojans’ already thin and untested secondary, which includes no returning starters and only two players with more than limited experience.
Expected to vie for Burns’ position in the lineup are freshman Marcus Brown, freshman Mike Salmon and sophomore Zuri Hector.
Also moved Monday were junior Calvin Holmes, from No. 2 to No. 1 at halfback, and freshman Howard McCowan, from No. 1 to No. 2 at free safety. Sophomore Stephon Pace, who had been listed No. 1 at halfback, was moved to free safety, where he is expected to start.
Burns was not available for comment.