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For Prioleau, Opener Will be Emotional

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No Redskin has been counting down the days to Sunday's opener versus Miami as closely as Pierson Prioleau.

It's been almost a full year since Prioleau, the Redskins' versatile safety and 9-year NFL veteran, ripped up his knee in the 2006 opener against Minnesota at FedExField.

Given all he's been through in his year-long rehab, Prioleau realizes it'll be a major achievement in his career if he's able to see game action and contribute on Sunday.

It will give him the feeling that he's arrived back from something major.

"I'll be running out of the tunnel with tears in my eyes because it's been a tough offseason, not being able to be available for my teammates last year," he said. "I love this sport and I don't take it for granted. Not one day."

With this year's Week 1 matchup just a matter of a few days off, Prioleau says his knee is doing fine.

"Throughout this whole preseason and camp, I've had minimal swelling and minimal stiffness," he said. "Sometimes there's a little stiffness the night after practice, but it's usually fine the following morning, or by the time practice starts the next day.

"There are some aches and pain, but it's usually 12-16 months before you get rid of all of the pain. But as far as mobility, reflexes and movement, I feel like I'm playing pretty good football right now."

Gregg Williams, who naturally has monitored Prioleau's comeback attempt very closely, can see Prioleau's confidence returning.

"Playing in the trenches--those are things he'll have to get over," Williams said. "He's overcome everything so far. His confidence? It's up. His movement is great, his strength is great, but you need to take a shot on it to understand how strong it is.

"When you're rehabbing or coming back from a major injury, you find out a lot about yourself. There's nobody there to pat you on the back, and you miss the competition. You get down on yourself and you fight through periods of depression.

"Pierson's come an awful long way, and he's responded very well. He was a valuable part of our playoff march two years ago because he can play so many positions."

For Prioleau, it's not just the birth of a new season but a rebirth of his NFL career.

It was almost exactly one year ago: Over 90,000 screaming fans had their adrenaline pumping to see the Redskins open the 2006 season against the Minnesota Vikings at FedExField.

In front of a national television Monday Night audience, the Redskin kickoff cover team was ready to build on a 2005 season that saw the team reach the NFC Divisional Playoffs.

As John Hall kicked the ball and the Redskins ran down to cover the kick, the worst of all possibilities befell Prioleau.

Without making contact with another player, Prioleau's foot got stuck in the ground, his knee locked up and he tore his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL). An MRI taken the following morning revealed that he would be lost for the entire season.

The Redskins went on to lose that game 19-16 and as we now know they finished with a disappointing 5-11 record. It was almost as if Prioleau's injury was an omen of bad things.

"As soon as it happened, I knew it was a feeling that I had never felt before," Prioleau said several weeks ago in the Redskins' locker room following the Aug. 18 pre-season game versus the Steelers.

He added: "I initially thought the worst, then I hoped for the best, then I found out the worst again. It was an emotional roller coaster for me that night."

In the past year, Prioleau, a Virginia Tech product who has become one of the most highly-respected members of the Redskins, went through a lot to get back on the field after initially contemplating retirement.

He underwent surgery performed by Dr. James Andrews of Birmingham, Alabama, then endured a lengthy nine-month rehabilitation program.

Looking back, the 5-11, 188-pound nine-year NFL veteran said it was worth the effort in order to stay in the game and with the Redskins.

"I've tried to put it behind me in order for me to be effective," Prioleau said. "However, I'll never forget about it. I use it as a motivational tool on every play that I'm involved in."

He continued: "I know that I have to be the best player that I can be on every play, because you never know what's going to happen next.

"Each time I step out on the field, I look at it as a blessing. I enjoy and every moment of it."

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