GREENSBORO - In the land where offensive linemen live, bodies can often end up in a pile. Center Thomas Hearn understands this world more than he likes to admit. Twelve months ago during preseason football practice at North Carolina A&T, Hearn collides with one his teammates as he tries to make a block.
During the collision of multiple bodies that average approximately 290 pounds, a domino effect occurs and one of the bodies fall on Hearn's left ankle.
Snap. Here we go again. Hearn's ankle is broken. Days later he finds out he will miss the 2011 season.
"I was going all out and pushing for a championship," said Hearn about his approach toward the 2011 season. "I was going to put it all on me and try to lead by example. When the injury happened, it took a lot of life out of me. I didn't know what to do."
Hearn finds himself facing a difficult decision. He is a senior. He has a history of injuries throughout his career. So much so, if he returns for the 2012 season, it will be his sixth. Why not end all the heartache, and begin transitioning toward life after football?
There are plenty of reasons to turn away from football. In 2007, Hearn graduates from Riverside High School in Durham. College recruits aren't exactly beating down his door. Offers came in from Division II and Division III schools, but most Division I schools believe the 6-foot, 265-pound lineman does not have the size to play at their level.
"When you think about an offensive lineman, you're thinking 6-3, 6-4," said Hearn. "Once A&T showed interest, I knew this was the place for me. I decided to come here to prove the people who doubted me wrong. I wanted to prove to people I could play (Division I) ball. I came here with a chip on my shoulder."
Hearn waits for his chance to prove his worth to the non-believers as he redshirts during the 2007 season. As a redshirt freshman, he plays eight games at both guard positions before tearing the Medial Collateral Ligament in his left knee during the last game of the 2008 season.
No big deal. Hearn rehabs the knee and returns for the 2009 season, where he starts eight games at right guard without incident. Hearn is not only a Division I player, but he is likely one of the strongest men in the Football Championship Subdivision. He bench presses 225 pounds more than 25 times and his bench press max exceeds 425 pounds. His lower body strength is impressive as well. He squats better than 530 pounds.
"When you think T-Hearn, you're going to think strength, hard work and fight. He is going to give everything he's got for A&T."
Another injury in 2010 calls into question his ability to give his all.