Love of game keeps Huskers' Lohr going

Updated: October 9, 2003, 7:29 PM ET

LINCOLN, Neb. -- With two major knee surgeries behind him and chronic back problems, sixth-year senior Jason Lohr knows he isn't nearly the football player he used to be.

But the 24-year-old defensive lineman is determined to end his Nebraska career on his own terms.

"If I wouldn't have finished it out," he said, "I would have never forgiven myself. I wanted to step on the field one more time and play."

Lohr has played the last two weeks and will be on the travel roster for Saturday's game at Missouri.

That is no small accomplishment for the 6-foot-2, 285-pounder from Tulsa, Okla.

"Hopefully," he said, "I can stay healthy enough that I can play in every game."

Lohr became a contributor soon after he arrived at Nebraska in 1998. He had aspirations of playing in the NFL, and was on the right track after playing in every game as a true freshman.

His NFL hopes have all but died.

Not every player can fully recover from one major knee surgery.

Hardly any come back from two knee operations.

"Jason is on the extreme end," coach Frank Solich said. "Some guys would have taken a medical hardship and quit after one surgery and most guys definitely would have after two, and rightfully so."

It isn't just his left knee that has ailed Lohr. His back also has caused him problems throughout his career, and he had surgery for that after his junior season in 2000.

Lohr was the team's sixth-leading tackler as a junior and turned in a career-best 11-tackle performance to help key a 34-32 win over Colorado.

But in the third game of the 2001 season, against Notre Dame, Lohr tore the lateral collateral ligament in his left knee. He was lost for the season.

The Big 12 granted Lohr a medical hardship, allowing him to come back in 2002. But in a fall scrimmage, he suffered a season-ending anterior cruciate ligament tear in the same knee.

"To me, that would have been a sign that the Lord wants me to do something besides football," teammate Patrick Kabongo said. "Jason just couldn't give it up."

The NCAA granted Lohr's request for a sixth year of eligibility last spring. He graduated in May with a sociology degree.

"He could have easily said he was going into the business world," defensive line coach Jeff Jamrog said.

Lohr said his wife, Jennifer, has been a constant source of strength. The couple has two sons, 2-year-old Ryan and 8-month-old Grant.

Without Jennifer, Lohr said, he probably couldn't have endured the exhausting rehabilitation it took to prepare him to play again.

"She helped me through it quite a bit when I was feeling down," he said. "For her, it doesn't matter if I start. She's just supportive in everything I want to do."

Lohr also commiserated with his brother, Brandon, a junior defensive lineman at the University of Tulsa. Brandon tore his ACL in the 2002 opener against Oklahoma. He is a starter again for Tulsa this year.

"It was tough on him," Jason said. "That was the first major injury he had ever had. I told him it would take awhile but that he would get back to where he was."

Jason still wonders if he'll ever get back to his old self.

After completing rehab, Lohr was eager to get started in preseason camp. But he missed two-a-days because of back spasms.

Lohr was undeterred. He suited up for the Penn State game but didn't play. Lohr played 18 snaps without making a tackle against Southern Mississippi on Sept. 25. Last week he made two tackles in limited action against Troy State.

The coaching staff has set modest goals for Lohr.

"Originally, I thought if he could give us any snaps this year, it's going to be a bonus," Jamrog said.

Lohr said he knows he probably won't be a starter again. At this point, he said, he wants to help the team and prove to himself that he can finish what he started in 1998.

"Being off two years, I'm a little rusty," he said. "The big thing is to just get on the field and play."

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index