DeSouza a changed man after motor-scooter accident

Offensive lineman feels fortunate to be alive, expects to play next season

November 23, 2010|By Jeff Barker, The Baltimore Sun

COLLEGE PARK — When the shuttle returns him to his dorm each weekday evening, Pete DeSouza makes certain the driver doesn't pass the campus intersection where he had a severe motor-scooter accident last month that has come back to him in nightmares.

"I actually have them go a different way to take me home because I really don't want to go there at night," said DeSouza, a 6-foot-6, 288-pound Maryland offensive tackle who spoke to the news media Tuesday for the first time since he suffered multiple fractures in both legs in the Oct. 21 evening crash.

DeSouza, a redshirt freshman from Silver Spring, recounted his story while sitting in a chair in the Gossett Football Team House dining room in his black Maryland sweat suit. He had crutches at his side and oversized boots on both feet. He spoke softly, and his somber expression rarely changed.

DeSouza was struck by a car whose driver was ticketed for refusing to yield the right of way. The accident left him with titanium rods in both legs.

The good news for DeSouza is not only that he survived, but that he expects to play next season. "A lot of people think that, you know, I could have passed away, so obviously it's great that I'm able to play football again. Because not a lot of people would have that opportunity. So I have to take advantage of that. Also, I have to give back to people because God let me come back," he said.

DeSouza wasn't wearing a helmet but says a book bag cushioned his fall. He was driving the scooter on Campus Drive when the other motorist turned left in front of him near Stamp Student Union, according to the Department of Public Safety.

"My head didn't land on the ground. If it did, it probably would have split open or I probably would have had a concussion," DeSouza said. He said the bag "helped support my back and my neck and my head. I didn't have my helmet on. If I ever get back on a scooter, I will have the helmet on."

Asked whether he ever plans to again ride a scooter -- a popular mode of transportation for campus athletes -- DeSouza replied without smiling: "Not anytime soon."

As lucky as DeSouza was to have survived, the accident left him, and his teammates, with psychic scars.

"I think about it a lot," said DeSouza, a former DeMatha star who had started the three games before the crash left him in intensive care. "Early on, a couple nightmares, stuff like that. At times, it gets emotional. But I've got guys around me and people around me that are good people that I can talk to."

He said he never lost consciousness. "I remember about the whole accident, from driving there and seeing him hit me and stuff like that," DeSouza said. He said he recalls a man -- perhaps the other driver, although that couldn't be confirmed -- "coming to my help and telling me to calm down and stuff like that."

And DeSouza remembers looking down at his feet, "and then I sat back down and I kind of knew I was done for the season."

About that time, quarterback Danny O'Brien, one of DeSouza's closest friends on the team, arrived to find DeSouza and an ambulance.

"I saw his [left] leg when they lifted the tarp," O'Brien said. "It was like a Slinky, kind of. It didn't feel real. For it to happen to one of my best friends, it hurt."

The accident occurred on a Thursday night. Maryland left to play at Boston College the next day -- O'Brien and the Terps dedicated their victory to DeSouza -- and many players visited the player the following Sunday. "He was still pretty drugged up and out of it," O'Brien said. "It was pretty emotional seeing him, especially on the hospital bed, all hooked up. You never want to see your friend in that situation."

DeSouza, who has lost more than 20 pounds since the crash, is able to attend a few classes while he continues rehabilitation that includes leg extensions and a series of other stretches.

Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen said that the rehabilitation is proceeding well but that DeSouza's timetable might be too ambitious. "Pete thinks he's going to be ready for spring practice, but I don't see how that's possible," the coach said.

But Friedgen also said: "They told me he wouldn't be able to put any weight on that left leg for three months, and he's already got weight on that left leg. So a lot of our prayers have been answered with that. If his spirit has anything to do with a speedy recovery, I think he'll be ready as fast as humanly possible."

For now, DeSouza -- who O'Brien says is "kind of goofy" around his teammates -- is happy to be back but says he has changed.

"It changes you tremendously. I have a different perspective on life. I'm more with God and more understanding that things can be taken away," he said.

jeff.barker@baltsun.com

twitter.com/sunjeffbarker

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