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Athlete's heart won't keep Florida State Seminoles' Moses McCray from playing football

TALLAHASSEE — Florida State defensive tackle Moses McCray isn't one to worry about what he can't change.

Not even when it's a heart condition — a slight thickening of the heart wall — that could have ended his promising career before it began or, potentially and more ominously, threaten his life.

"I just put it all in God's hands," he said.

McCray, 19, a sophomore from Hillsborough High, did more than pray, though he admits he did plenty of that and still does. He also had an array of exams last summer at the renowned Cleveland Clinic.

That led to a diagnosis of a generally benign syndrome called athlete's heart, the thickening attributed to significant exercise. He was medically cleared to play, started the first two games of the season, played in six others and would have had a larger role were it not for an ankle injury and a torn hip flexor. He has returned to Cleveland two other times, most recently this month, for more testing. None of the results provided a reason for his doctor to change his initial recommendation.

"Everything has been rock stable in the three sets of tests," said Dr. Milind Desai, a cardiologist who received written authorization from McCray to discuss the case. "That's why I think it is athlete's heart."

"It's turned out okay," McCray said.

Now, the 6-foot-2, 291-pound McCray, whose soft-spoken, unassuming nature belies his ferocity and power on the field, seems poised for a breakout season.

"Moses can be a very good football player for us," defensive tackles coach Odell Haggins said. "He's got to play the game faster, but the experience will help him out on that. He has to do it, and I have to coach him up. That's the key. He hasn't scratched the surface yet. But he's all set to go."

•••

McCray came to FSU in the summer of 2008 hoping to contribute immediately, a real possibility given several defensive linemen facing suspensions as a result of an academic misconduct scandal.

But FSU's health screening showed a thicker than normal heart, something he knew he had but didn't think anything about. Folks at FSU, however, feared it could be an indication of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, or HCM, a condition that makes it difficult for the heart to pump blood and can lead to fainting, arrhythmias and even sudden death as it did with basketball player Hank Gathers.

Athletes with HCM, which is generally inherited, are almost always medically disqualified. USC took that action just last month with freshman linebacker Frankie Telfort out of Miami's Gulliver Prep.

"Thousands of thoughts started going through my head at one time," McCray said of FSU's initial reaction. "I really want to make it (in football) and take care of my family and I was starting to think about alternate ways to do that. … It was depressing at first, but it was something I couldn't change, and I shouldn't worry because everything happens for a reason."

FSU, which had a football player die — Devaughn Darling collapsed during an offseason conditioning workout, and it was determined he had sickle cell trait and not HCM — in 2001, sent McCray to the Cleveland Clinic.

Desai ran several tests, including an echocardiogram, an EKG and a cardiac MRI, and determined the thickness of McCray's heart wall to be in the 14-15 millimeter range.

He said that with HCM, the thickness is usually greater, in the 17-20 range, and he concluded McCray likely had athlete's heart. As with many medical issues, there's a gray area, so Desai offered McCray two choices:

Avoid football for six months and see if the thickening regresses, a telltale sign of athlete's heart, or keep playing under supervision and see if the thickening increases. McCray chose the latter and has seen no change.

Not six months later.

Not just a few weeks ago.

•••

FSU trainers do limit the amount of weight he can lift (225 pounds), though not the repetitions, and "we've got him constantly monitored," said Randy Oravetz, the school's director of sports medicine.

McCray said he has had no problems, such as dizziness or fainting. He will continue to see Desai every six months, and any change could compel the doctor to change his diagnosis and recommendations.

"I don't want to make him nervous or antsy by saying he is a special case," Desai said, "but at the same, he's not completely like every other kid on the planet. … But the worry I had when he was leaving my office a year and a couple months ago, that worry has gotten lower and lower."

Again, McCray seems unfazed.

But he's not unappreciative.

"It does make the passion greater because I'm thankful that I'm still out there," he said. "I could be like the guy from Miami, and I pray for him, too. Sometimes we're running and you say, 'Man. I'd rather be doing something else,' but in the back of my head, I don't really mean it. It's hard and you get yelled at, but I like being out there. I love it."

Brian Landman can be reached at landman@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3347.

Athlete's heart won't keep Florida State Seminoles' Moses McCray from playing football 08/21/09 [Last modified: Saturday, August 22, 2009 12:45am]
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