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Fry resumes his NFL dream

CLEMSON, S.C. – What started out as a storybook season turned into a Stephen King horror novel.

A preseason Outland Trophy candidate, one of the top guards in the country awaiting the NFL in his near future, Clemson senior offensive lineman Roman Fry was overflowing with excitement and anticipation going into the 2006 college football season.

But all that changed.

There was also a personal tragedy during the summer when Fry and three others were riding individual watercrafts on a lake. An accident caused a watercraft to strike and kill 32-year-old Clemson assistant track coach and friend Jarrett Foster.

After an extensive investigation that included 20 different sobriety tests, officials declared Fry innocent of any charges.

“That was a difficult time. That’s been hard to put behind me,” Fry said.

When the season began, Fry began to put the accident behind him. His strong play earned him the ACC Lineman of the Week honor in a 27-20 win over Florida State.

Fry was named to the Sports Illustrated midseason All-American first team and the future was looking bright once again.

But then fate reared its ugly head.

Clemson was facing Georgia Tech in a crucial ACC Thursday night game that aired on ESPN. Fry was playing well, as was Clemson, but then a knee injury forced him out of the game. Not only didn’t he return for the rest of the game, he was out for the rest of the season.

“It was worse than they thought. You can only see so much on an MRI. I was thankful it was something I could recover from,” Fry said.

Dr. Scott Gillogly, the Atlanta Falcons team physician, did Fry’s knee surgery. He recently returned for a checkup and got glowing results.

“The knee is feeling good. Dr. Gillogly goes to the NFL combines and he clears players for the Falcons. I figured if I can get cleared by him being a pro doctor, I can get cleared by anybody,” Fry said.

Gillogly told Fry his knee was back to 90 percent, an amazing recovery in just five months. Fry added that Gillogly said “I had the strongest quads he’s ever seen.”

During the Clemson Pro Day workout for scouts, Fry had the best flexibility of any player. Weighing in at 6-foot-33, 311-pounds, Fry did 23 bench press repetitions of 225 pounds.

“I’m back in the weight room. I did 450 pounds the other day. I’m working on my strength right now,” Fry said. “They like to check your endurance. Right now I’m just training and rehabbing. I don’t know if I’ll be cleared before the draft. I hope so. I want to prove people wrong.”

Although Fry is on the road to recovery and is in good spirits, he admits that it wasn’t a smooth period. He said the injury often left him depressed, especially since he was told originally by scouts that he was a first day selection.

But Fry said the experience eventually taught him a difficult lesson.

“At mid-season I was All-American. The injury was unfortunate. I dwelled on it for a while, but I realized that it was in the past and I can’t change that,” Fry said.

“I never missed practice in high school or college. Teams look at that. I’m not someone who is injury-prone. To be at 90 percent at the five-month mark is pretty good. Things are looking up.”

While Fry was trying to get back in shape for the draft, he was coming to grips with the idea he might never play again. He said if he was an NFL veteran lineman, he would have been out for the season.

But now his personal outlook is more on the positive side.

“It’s a depressing injury because you’re away from the game for a while. I respect (playing the game) more. I don’t take anything for granted now,” Fry said.

“What I’m doing is really, really good. That helps me. But I’m not going to rush it. I’m not going to come back quicker than my body says.”

Several NFL teams have contacted Fry including the Cleveland Browns, Kansas City Chiefs, Miami Dolphins and Washington Redskins.

Fry said there is still a slim chance he could get drafted, but he has accepted the fate of being a free agent.

His agent, Buzz Cook, is considered one of the top eight sports agents. His clientele includes Brett Favre, Steve McNair, Vince Young, Calvin Johnson, Randy Moss and JaMarcus Russell.

“I could slip in there. A lot of teams are interested. They want to see if I’m healthy,” Fry said.

“I’ll probably have to miss mini-camp. It’s probably a blessing in disguise. You don’t want to go into a camp like that and not be in shape. I’ll be ready in July and from there it’s on me. I’ll make a camp. It’s frustrating because it takes time.”

Besides his ahead-of-schedule recovery, Fry has enjoyed some other highlights since the end of the season.

He graduated Dec. 21 with a degree technology and human resources degree. Later that night he proposed to his fianc/e, Lessie Pruitt.

“She said she’d never marry me if I didn’t graduate. So once I graduated, I asked,” Fry said with a chuckle.

Football will also effect Fry’s wedding date. Since many of his friends should be with NFL teams, the couple set a wedding date for April 19.

In 2008, that is.

“It was going to be hard to get everyone together until them,” Fry said.

Because he can play center, guard or tackle, Fry said he should be more attractive to NFL team.

“I’ll probably end up playing center in the league. I played some center, but we had Dustin Fry who is probably going to get drafted,” said Fry who is no relation to his Clemson teammate Dustin.

“I can learn offenses quickly and that’s one of my strengths. You’ve got to be disciplined.”

During the 2005 season, Fry led the team in knockdown blocks during the last seven games with 85 including 18 in a win over No. 16 Florida State.

Fry was voted Clemson’s top offensive lineman of the week on five different occasions and finished with 98.5 knockdown blocks.

He was a preseason Outland Trophy candidate, symbolic of the nation’s best lineman.

The former Ironton High School first team All-Ohio selection was a preseason first team All-American selection by The Sporting News and Lindy’s magazine which ranked him the nation’s eighth best guard.

Ironton was 31-7 during Fry’s three seasons including a state runner-up in 1999.