TAMPA — USF kicker Maikon Bonani made his first visit to practice Wednesday since his frightening 35-foot fall and talked about the incident, when he might return and how he'll support his teammates this season.
"I'm blessed," said Bonani, 20, who has a white USF brace around his torso that he said he'll need for about three months. "Since I got to the hospital, the doctors said I was very fortunate, and I believed them right away. It is a pretty long fall. Only to have a broken bone, it's pretty amazing."
The sophomore, wearing a green T-shirt and a black pair of USF shorts with his No. 28 on them, is expected to redshirt this season while a cracked vertebra heals. But Bonani said he plans to be a regular at practice and home games, supporting his teammates much the way they've supported him since he was hospitalized last month.
"I've missed it," he said. "Laying in bed wasn't fun. This is my passion, and I couldn't wait to be out here again. It feels great to sweat again, to be with my teammates."
While working as an attendant for Busch Gardens' Skyride on July 19, a gondola left his station with the door unlocked. In trying to lock it, he found himself hanging on as it moved higher and higher.
"It was more instinct than anything," Bonani said. "People can look at it both ways; whether it was my fault or a failure or something. But at the time, no one would know what to do unless you were in that situation. I wanted to make sure people were safe."
Bonani said he knew how much time he had.
"The good thing about it all is while it was happening, I was actually thinking throughout the whole thing," he said. "As I was holding on, I thought, 'Can I hold on?' It's a 21/2-minute wait until the next station, and the thing was just going to keep getting higher. If I took a chance, my hand could have slipped and I could have fallen; higher and on concrete, on top of people.
"There were rocks the first couple of feet, and I was like, 'I can't fall on rocks.' Then there came a landscaped area, and that's where I decided to let go. I didn't want to take a chance. You have to do something."
Bonani said he let go confident he would walk away from the nearly three-story fall by landing on his feet to absorb some of the impact.
"The pain wasn't too bad. Once I laid there, I made sure I could move my fingers and toes and legs and all that stuff," he said. "Once I was able to do that, I kind of relaxed a lot more. The pain is just a broken bone pain … typical pain."
Bonani said he has confidence in his close friend and teammate, senior punter Delbert Alvarado, who will take over kicking duties. The idea of not playing this season wasn't easy to accept.
"It was kind of hard to swallow at first," he said. "I believe everything happens for a reason. So you kind of swallow it. It's tough. I miss it."
Bonani will wear the brace until late October or November and said his goal from there will be to get back into shape. He joked that he hasn't been able to do much beyond watching TV and eating, so he has weight to lose and muscle to rebuild.
"I have great trust in them," Bonani said about Alvarado and walk-on Eric Schwartz. "If I'm not needed, I'm just going to rehab and be ready for next season."
Bonani said he finds consolation in being able to support his teammates. He hopes to help special teams coach John Hendrick once he's cleared. He said the hardest part is simply not playing.
"I wouldn't say not contributing because that's not true. I'll be here for my teammates, and I feel like I am part of the team, regardless," Bonani said. "On a personal level, not playing and not being active is what bothers me the most. Just to see everyone sweating, I know it sounds disgusting, but it's a great feeling. I miss it."
Bonani, a native of Brazil who attended Lake Wales High, said he was moved by the outpouring of support from coaches, players and fans.
"I was overwhelmed," he said. "One year here, you'd think nobody would. Everyone came and supported me. Coaches called. Players came by; cards, well-wishers for a recovery. It was great."