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HAMMOCK: Veal beats adversity to earn UGA scholarship

The thought crossed Jason Veal's mind long enough to consider a change of plans, that he may have to give up on this football thing.

Who could really blame him?

The Parkview grad already carried the history of four knee surgeries when he was the passenger in a personal watercraft accident last year. The driver flipped over the steering column but Veal's 5-foot-11, 220-pound frame crashed directly into it.

He fought through a painful night in his University of Georgia dorm room and eventually went to the hospital, where doctors informed him that he had nearly torn his liver in half, lacerated his kidney and nicked his lung. He spent five days in the hospital in guarded condition to make sure the internal bleeding had ceased.

He was about to face three to four months with limited physical activity. He couldn't even lift weights for two months. Another rehabilitation was on tap.

"My body's been through a lot in 21 years," Veal said. "After that, it was like, 'Gosh, do I even want to go through this again?'"

Of course he did.

Veal loves football too much and he's not the type of kid to quit on anything. A walk-on for the Bulldogs, he sat out much of 2010 after the accident and returned late in the season, special liver protection pad in place, to give the scout team a spark.

Knowing that history makes what happened last week even more heartwarming.

UGA head coach Mark Richt called a small group of walk-ons, Veal included, up in front of the team meeting. The senior, a regular honor roll student with a 3.2 GPA in finance, figured it was a recurrence of why he usually is called up by Richt, to praise him for some academic honor.

Instead, the coach announced that Veal and the other walk-ons would be put on scholarship for their final year in Athens. UGA was under the NCAA allotment of 85 scholarships, so they had room to reward the underappreciated players.

The walk-ons, or former walk-ons, were mobbed by their yelling and clapping teammates.

"The whole team got excited and jumped all over us," Veal said. "It was probably the coolest experience I've had so far. It's always been a dream to earn a scholarship. I could have gone some place small, Division I-AA or Division II, out of high school but I've just always dreamed about going to UGA."

Veal likely would have been more highly recruited out of high school, but tore his ACL twice in high school. The first time came his sophomore season, when he cracked the Parkview lineup, and the second one messed up his junior season. He was a senior in high school before he played a full season.

The knees have held up at UGA, allowing Veal a shot to play football for his dream school as a reserve linebacker and special-teams player. His role isn't glamourous - walk-ons take a physical beating on scout team without the glory of scholarship players - but all his hard work has paid off.

Especially when Richt told him that he was now one of those players on scholarship.

"It meant a lot to me," Veal said. "All the scout team, all the working hard, it was well worth it."

The thought crossed Jason Veal's mind long enough to consider a change of plans, that he may have to give up on this football thing.

Who could really blame him?

The Parkview grad already carried the history of four knee surgeries when he was the passenger in a personal watercraft accident last year. The driver flipped over the steering column but Veal's 5-foot-11, 220-pound frame crashed directly into it.

He fought through a painful night in his University of Georgia dorm room and eventually went to the hospital, where doctors informed him that he had nearly torn his liver in half, lacerated his kidney and nicked his lung. He spent five days in the hospital in guarded condition to make sure the internal bleeding had ceased.

He was about to face three to four months with limited physical activity. He couldn't even lift weights for two months. Another rehabilitation was on tap.

"My body's been through a lot in 21 years," Veal said. "After that, it was like, 'Gosh, do I even want to go through this again?'"

Of course he did.

Veal loves football too much and he's not the type of kid to quit on anything. A walk-on for the Bulldogs, he sat out much of 2010 after the accident and returned late in the season, special liver protection pad in place, to give the scout team a spark.

Knowing that history makes what happened last week even more heartwarming.

UGA head coach Mark Richt called a small group of walk-ons, Veal included, up in front of the team meeting.

The senior, a regular honor roll student with a 3.2 GPA in finance, figured it was a recurrence of why he usually is called up by Richt, to praise him for some academic honor.

Instead, the coach announced that Veal and the other walk-ons would be put on scholarship for their final year in Athens. UGA was under the NCAA allotment of 85 scholarships, so they had room to reward the underappreciated players.

The walk-ons, or former walk-ons, were mobbed by their yelling and clapping teammates.

"The whole team got excited and jumped all over us," Veal said. "It was probably the coolest experience I've had so far. It's always been a dream to earn a scholarship. I could have gone some place small, Division I-AA or Division II, out of high school but I've just always dreamed about going to UGA."

Veal likely would have been more highly recruited out of high school, but tore his ACL twice in high school.

The first time came his sophomore season, when he cracked the Parkview lineup, and the second one messed up his junior season. He was a senior in high school before he played a full season.

The knees have held up at UGA, allowing Veal a shot to play football for his dream school as a reserve linebacker and special-teams player. His role isn't glamourous -- walk-ons take a physical beating on scout team without the glory of scholarship players -- but all his hard work has paid off.

Especially when Richt told him that he was now one of those players on scholarship.

"It meant a lot to me," Veal said. "All the scout team, all the working hard, it was well worth it."