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'Old spark is back' as Plant alum Klepal cleared to work out with FSU

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Fri. May 31, 2013 | Joel Anderson

'Old spark is back' as Plant alum Klepal cleared to work out with FSU

Former Plant High School star offensive lineman Richy Klepal, who retired from football in September after suffering a near-fatal concussion, has been cleared to start non-contact summer workouts with Florida State.

“Cleared to practice everything but hitting,” Klepal said via Twitter Friday. “Its good to be back #NoleNation bout to put this work in.”

Klepal had been angling to return to the game since graduating from Plant in December and starting classes at Florida State for the spring semester.

His father, Rick Klepal, said he was cleared by Florida State doctors after a recent MRI no longer showed signs of brain damage.

They then got word from Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher on Friday that Richy Klepal could start workouts with the team Monday morning.

“The brain is 100 percent healthy,” Rick Klepal said. “It’s a complete change from where it was.”

Doctors had recommended Klepal walk away from football shortly after he sustained a concussion during a practice in early September, only days before a game against nationally ranked John Curtis Christian.

That was his fifth known concussion, already two more than the tipping point when patients become much more likely to experience the litany of problems associated with traumatic brain injuries.

An MRI of that concussion showed small areas of bleeding on Klepal’s brain, a condition commonly known as a Duret hemorrhage — and usually only seen in autopsies. Doctors told Klepal that if he returned to the field and sustained another head injury, he could die immediately.

Dr. Marc Hilgers, Klepal’s former doctor who now runs a Level I concussion center at Orlando Health, said it’s possible a brain can heal only months after suffering such damage. But that patient, Hilgers said, will always be at an increased risk of re-injury.

“It doesn’t mean he will have another concussion or that the next concussion will be severe,” said Hilgers, who no longer treats Klepal and wasn’t involved with his latest diagnosis.

“It usually means that it’s more likely that he’ll suffer another one.”

News of Klepal’s decision to initially stop playing resonated during a time of greater public awareness of football-related concussions and traumatic brain injuries. About 5,500 plaintiffs — including 4,000 former NFL players — have filed concussion-related lawsuits against the league for allegedly withholding information about the link between head trauma and permanent brain injuries.

But Klepal’s story was unique, as he was one of the youngest football stars seemingly forced into early retirement.

A 6-foot-4, 285-pound offensive tackle, Klepal was a four-year member of Plant’s varsity. Most recruiting services rated him among the nation’s top 20 prospects on the offensive line. He also held scholarship offers from USC, Georgia and Miami among others.

“He had a lot of potential,” said MaxPreps/CBS Sports recruiting expert Tom Lemming, who ranked Klepal among Florida’s top 60 prospects in the Class of 2013. “He was a good-sized kid with some ability.”

Klepal committed to Florida State in July.

“He was always on the team,” Seminoles football spokesman Kerwin Lonzo said Friday. “Now he’s just cleared to exercise with the team. But that was all related to his medical situation.”

Rick Klepal said he and his son are excited about this new opportunity to feel like a part of the team. For the past few months, Richy Klepal has mostly been going to class and working out on his own.

“He just wants to be treated like any other football player,” Rick Klepal said. “I’m thrilled to death. The old spark is back.

“I don’t know if he’ll ever get cleared to play but that’s okay. He’s got plans and dreaming about the future and that’s what matters.”

Joel Anderson can be reached at janderson@tampabay.com or on Twitter @jdhometeam.

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