It didn’t take Kansas football coach Charlie Weis long to notice something was wrong. It was Saturday night, and junior receiver Tony Pierson was walking to the sideline with his head down, moments after dropping a pass during an eventual loss to Baylor. The drop was out of character for the sure-handed Pierson — and so was the body language.
“As soon as he came off the field,” Weis recalled on Tuesday, “I said ‘Talk to me.’ He said, ‘I’m dizzy.’”
And with that, Pierson was done for the day, another setback in a season that has been plagued by persisting symptoms from a concussion suffered in early October. Pierson missed two games after taking a hard fall while being tackled near the sideline against Texas Tech on Oct. 5. And after returning against Baylor on Saturday, he logged just a handful of snaps — making zero catches — before leaving the game.
For a Kansas offense struggling to score during a four-game losing streak, the loss of Pierson, its leading receiver, has further handcuffed Weis and his offensive assistants. Weis said Tuesday that Pierson is questionable for this Saturday’s game at Texas, and he’ll exercise extreme caution before putting Pierson back on the field.
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“I’m concerned,” Weis said.
When the season began, Pierson was slated to start at the “F” receiver position, a new hybrid role designed to maximize his speed and spark a silent passing game. It worked — to a degree. Despite playing just three full games, Pierson still leads Kansas in receptions (21) and receiving yards (327). But the offense has still struggled, and it’s only become more evident in Pierson’s absence.
“There’s nothing medically to keep him from playing,” Weis said. “Maybe I’m old-fashioned, and maybe I’m overly concerned, but when a kid is out there for three plays and he’s dizzy, and he hasn’t been hit, you better be concerned.”
The long-lasting impact of head injuries has become a leading issue at all levels of football in the last decade. And Kansas has been at the forefront of the Big 12’s stance on the issue. Earlier this year, KU trainer Murphy Grant helped the league draft a “position statement” on concussions.
In the weeks after suffering his initial concussion, Pierson was able to pass a series of cognitive tests, Weis said, but he couldn’t return until he was free of all symptoms and lingering effects from the concussion. On Tuesday, Weis indicated one reason for the concern: Pierson has suffered multiple head injuries during the last year.
After another spat of dizziness against Baylor, Weis said Pierson’s chances of playing this week were “slim to none.”
“Isn’t that one the biggest points in football today — the discussion on concussions?” Weis said. “How hypocritical could you be if you try to push a guy out there.”
• Junior middle linebacker Ben Heeney was back atop the depth chart on Tuesday and Weis said Heeney will play this Saturday against Texas. Heeney missed two games after suffering a knee injury against TCU on Oct. 12.
• Weis reiterated his stance that quarterbacks Jake Heaps and Montell Cozart will continue to split time this week. Heaps, a junior, started last week against Baylor, while Cozart came on in relief and played nearly half the snaps.