After practicing in 94-degree heat Wednesday morning, Princeton running back Jordan Culbreath ’10 looked fairly fresh – drenched in sweat but smiling and standing tall.
“I’m happy to be out on the field,” Culbreath said in his first interview since returning to the Tigers. “I never thought I’d be able to put the pads on again, but I’m getting that opportunity, so I’m going take advantage of every day I get out here.”
For most of the last year, Culbreath has battled aplastic anemia, a life-threatening blood disorder. The condition sapped his strength and kept him out of the classroom (and off the football field) for two semesters while he received treatment near his home in northern Virginia.
In the months that followed his diagnosis in early October 2009, Culbreath dealt with a series of complications, but in January, he said, his condition started to improve. He began to work out more regularly in the spring, and this summer, doctors cleared him to play football. By late July, when he started to increase the intensity of his workouts, his return to the field started to seemed realistic, Culbreath said.
During the season, Culbreath will continue to receive medication every two weeks (a drug called Soliris, which prevents his red blood cells from breaking down prematurely), and he will have his blood tested weekly to make sure that he’s maintaining healthy levels of things like hemoglobin and platelets.
So far, Culbreath said he’s not quite back to game shape – “Sometimes my mind is where I used to be two years ago, [and] my body is like, ‘wait a second’ ” – but both he and head coach Bob Surace '90 expect that he will be ready for Princeton’s Sept. 18 opener at Lehigh.
Surace said that coaches are monitoring Culbreath’s activity closely. “We’re still being probably a little bit overly cautious at times,” he said. “He doesn’t like that, but as a coach, we’re in uncharted territory, so you want to be sure there’s not a setback.”
In practice, Culbreath already is turning heads. According to Surace, he dodged one starting linebacker on an open-field run and knocked another starting defender on his behind while pass blocking. Late in the Sept. 1 morning session, Culbreath ran plays with the first-string offense.
While Culbreath is happy to be back, he’s not happy just to be back. He wants to excel on the field, as he did in 2008 when he led the Ivy League in rushing, and he's ready to work toward that goal.
“I'm just like any other guy out here," he said. "There’s no excuses now that I’m back in the pads. Other teams aren’t going to care where I was last year.”