Muscular Neck Saved Stafon Johnson's Life

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LOS ANGELES (AP) - Southern California tailback Stafon Johnson probably wouldn't have survived his weightlifting accident without his muscular athlete's neck, which helped maintain his airway when a weight bar crashed down on it, a doctor said Tuesday.

Johnson could communicate non-verbally with his family members and teammates on Tuesday morning, less than 24 hours after his bench-pressing accident in the Trojans' weight room. The bar crushed his neck and larynx, which required seven hours of surgery.

Johnson's fitness helped him survive, said Dr. Gudata Hinika, the trauma medical director at California Hospital Medical Center.

Johnson is unlikely to play again for USC, but coach Pete Carroll is grateful for the team leader's improved health.

"He's not talking, but he was doing his wave and writing," Carroll said. "It's very uplifting for his mom and his family and all the guys who got a chance to go down there."

Hinika said Johnson is recovering well and is in stable condition. Johnson, who was taken away from USC's campus wearing a neck brace, woke up Tuesday morning after undergoing an emergency tracheotomy, followed by reconstructive surgery.

Johnson's mother, Kim Mallory, happened to be working at the same downtown Los Angeles hospital where her son was transported Monday.

It's unclear when Johnson will be able to speak again, but he's expected to fully recover. The news was greeted with sighs of relief at USC's Heritage Hall, where the seventh-ranked Trojans gathered before Tuesday's practice in preparation for Saturday's key game at No. 24 California.

"We're connected. This is a very tight program and a very tight team," Carroll said. "Stafon has been a spiritual leader and a leader on the field for a long time here. We're going to do everything we can to support him and his family. This morning, everyone has been encouraged."