Brandon Wimberly wouldn't let a bullet to his abdomen end his college football career. He's certainly not going to walk away after a disappointing 7-6 season.
"After those last few games went the way they did," the Nevada Wolf Pack senior wide receiver said, "I knew I wanted to come back. That's not the way I wanted to go out."
Wimberly, who missed the entire 2011 season because of gunshot wounds suffered outside a downtown Reno restaurant just a few months before the start of the season, is hoping the NCAA gives him a sixth season of eligibility in 2013.
"You never know," said Wimberly when asked what he thought his chances were of getting that extra year. "They tell me it looks good but you don't know."
Wolf Pack coach Chris Ault expects to have Wimberly in 2013.
"He's only played three years," Ault said. "He missed the whole (2011) season. I would think he'd qualify for that hardship year."
When the season started back in September, Wimberly wasn't sure he wanted to come back in 2013. The 23-year-old, after all, had been out of high school since 2007 and thought he'd might like to get on with his life.
"I didn't know what I was going to do," said Wimberly, who participated in the Pack's Senior day activities on Dec. 1 in case the NCAA denies his appeal for a sixth year. "But after we lost some of those games, that basically made up my mind. I came here to win championships and that's how I want to go out."
Wimberly's comeback season in 2012, despite the team's five losses in the last six games, couldn't have gone any better for him personally. The 6-foot-3, 215-pound wide receiver set career highs for catches (70) and yards gained (845) as quarterback Cody Fajardo's favorite target.
"Cody is a good kid," said Wimberly, who caught passes his first two seasons in 2009 and 2010 from Colin Kaepernick. "He's a very good quarterback. Very smart."
Wimberly's comeback actually started last March during the Pack's month-long spring football practices.
"It was like riding a bike," he smiled. "It wasn't that difficult to come back. I knew last spring I could do it. It felt like I never left. All my coaches and my teammates believed in me so that made it easy for me."
Wimberly has played in 40 games during his Wolf Pack career, dating back to 2009 when he was named the Western Athletic Conference's Freshman of the Year. He's caught at least one pass in all 40 of his games and if he gets a sixth year of eligibility he will enter 2013 as the nation's leader in consecutive games with at least one reception among active players.
Wimberly will enter 2013 already has one of the most productive receivers in school history. His 164 catches ranks him No. 11 and his 2,060 yards puts him in at No. 14. Wimberly has a chance to join an exclusive group of Pack receivers with at least 200 catches and 3,000 receiving yards. That group currently includes just Trevor Insley (298 for 5,005), Geoff Noisy (295 for 4,249), Nate Burleson (248 for 3,287), Bryan Reeves (234 for 3,408) and Alex Van Dyke (227 for 3,100).
The 2012 season also featured Wimberly's first touchdown in almost three years when he scored twice against San Diego State on Oct. 20 at Mackay Stadium. It was the first time he reached the end zone since the Wolf Pack's Hawaii Bowl against SMU on Dec. 24, 2009, a stretch of 22 games and 83 catches without a touchdown.
But, again, the scoreboard ruined the moment for him.
"I would trade the touchdowns in for a win," Wimberly said after the 39-38 overtime loss to the Aztecs.
It's that team-first attitude that has endeared Wimberly to his teammates and his coaching staff since he first stepped on campus in the spring of 2008.
"He's our leader," Ault said. "We'd love to have him back."
Wimberly, who originally signed with Oregon State in February 2007 but never played for the Beavers, had a remarkable 2012 season considering it was just a year earlier that doctors thought his career was over. But there he was, just seven months after taking a bullet to the stomach, on the field in the spring like nothing had happened.
"I wouldn't say it was easy," he smiled. "I lost 60 pounds and had to build my strength back up. But I never thought my career was over. I took advantage of the year off to work hard and get stronger."
It wasn't exactly like riding a bike.
"You are never ready for that grind of training camp," Wimberly smiled. "There's nothing you can do about it. It always hurts. But it's something you have to go through every summer to get ready for the season."
Wimberly admits he's the team leader in complaints at practice.
"I joke around a lot with my coaches," he smiled. "I complain a lot. But they know that's just me. They just tell me, 'We have to remind you that this is not an easy place to play football.'"
Wimberly, it seemed, always came equipped with a huge smile this entire season.
"Oh, you have to laugh out there," Wimberly said. "It's the only way to get through all these practices. I like to joke around. I'm the old guy out there. I have to keep everybody smiling."
When he complains a little too much, his coaches remind him of where he came from just a year earlier.
"They tell me, 'You can complain as much as you want,'" Wimberly said. "But last year you weren't even playing football. This is a whole lot better than that.'"
Wimberly can't help but agree.
"I do all that complaining, I think, as a motivation for myself," he smiled.
Wimberly hopes to lead an experienced group of wide receivers in 2013 that also includes Aaron Bradley, Kendall Brock, Richy Turner and Joe Huber. And that doesn't even include 10 others - Necho Beard, Nigel Westbrooks, Jay Richardson, Chance Early, Travis Gardner, Cody Hollister, Marquis Newell, Dominic Coulter, Austin Rauh and Nick Palko - who are also hoping to contribute at the position for the first time.
"I'm just excited to hopefully get another chance to play," Wimberly said.
Wolf Pack tight end Zach Sudfeld, who received a sixth season of eligibility in 2012 after missing all but the first game of 2011 with an injury, also convinced Wimberly to try to return in 2013.
"He told me he was excited to come back and get a chance to play," Wimberly said. "He's glad he did it."
Each and every day he gets to put on a uniform is special for Wimberly. He might not have liked the way the season turned out but there's no place he'd rather be in the fall than playing football for the Wolf Pack.
"All I have to do to remind myself of how lucky I am is pull up my shirt and there it is," he said, lifting his shirt to expose his two scars on his lower abdomen, just above his waist. "I love playing here. I just want to hold off on adulthood for as long as I possibly can. There's nothing wrong with that."
Nothing at all.