Nov. 4, 2013
Despite the upcoming bye week, head coach Pat Fitzgerald took time to meet with the media Monday morning to discuss the challenges that lie ahead for his resilient group of Wildcats.
ROLL CALL: Running back Stephen Buckley. Running back Treyvon Green. Running back Venric Mark. Running back Mike Trumpy. Running back Warren Long. Wide Receiver Tony Jones. Defensive tackle Will Hampton. Defensive tackle Sean McEvilly. Defensive end Tyler Scott. Defensive end Dean Lowry. Linebacker Collin Ellis. Linebacker Jaylen Prater. Cornerback Nick VanHoose. Safety Jimmy Hall.
recited those names at his regular Monday press briefing before saying, "I think I got everybody there that would be out if we played on Saturday."
Then, after a deep breath, he added, "Guys who would be limited in some way, shape or form if we were playing this Saturday" and here came another list.
Running back Tim Hanrahan. Center Brandon Vitabile. Left tackle Jack Konopka. Defensive end Deonte Gibson. Defensive end Ifeadi Odenigbo. Safety Ibraheim Campbell. Safety Traveon Henry.
"As you can see," Fitzgerald now said, "this week we've got to get healthy, get guys as much rest as we possibly can and hopefully get them back at some point next week to practice. What day, I don't know."
Then finally, after a listener commented on the extensiveness of those lists, he said, "If we didn't have bad luck, we wouldn't have any luck at all. That's just the way it is. It's the cards we've gotten dealt. That's probably what I'm most proud of in the team right now, the toughness they've shown. It's been a hard month from a health standpoint. But, man, we battled our fannies off and to see this kind of toughness, it's something we take great pride in. And the credit all goes to the guys."
FLASHING BACK: A very few of those names, most notably Mark, were sidelined even before the 'Cats visited Lincoln last Saturday. But the vast majority picked up their injuries during their enervating loss to Nebraska. "Saturday was rough, both sides. That's what (Cornhusker coach) Bo (Pelini) and I were talking about after the game," said Fitzgerald. "I've never seen a game like that before in my life. Both sides, guys going down. For us it's kind of been a reoccurring theme since we started Big Ten play. It seems like we're losing two, three, four guys (each week). But it is what it is. There's not a whole lot we can do. You've got to keep trudging on. Next man up mentality, that's all you can do. That's what I said earlier. I'm proud of the guys. That's what they've done. The next guys have gone in and tried to play their best. That's all we can ask from them."
LOOKING AHEAD: Mark, of course, has appeared only in the `Cats season opener against Cal and their Big Ten opener against Ohio State. Since he played, back in 2010, as a true freshman, it appears he could then use this as his redshirt year. "Based on our dealing with our compliance office, we feel if things don't get fixed quickly, there's that possibility. A strong possibility, I should say," Ftzgerald said when asked about that.
Will he and Mark make that decision?
"I don't know if it's going to be a choice between him and I," Fitzgerald said. "I think it's definitely going to be more dictated by where he is medically, first and foremost. What percentage is he at right now? I don't know. We haven't talked today. The guys have today off. But he hasn't practiced in what, three weeks. So when you look at it from that standpoint, he's not close to 100 percent. So when you look at it short term, you've got to make a decision on what's best for him from a health standpoint and then we move forward from there. But from a standpoint of coming back next year if he can't do that, then that's what we'll pursue."
Is Mark of the mind to come back or to graduate and go pro?
"I haven't talked to him about that, so I can't answer that from his standpoint," Fitzgerald said. "I know he's fighting to get back on the field. That's the only conversations we've had from a medical standpoint."
ONE LAST QUESTION: With so many players down, is Fitzgerald tempted to take the red shirts off some of his true freshmen who could provide reenforcement? "We wouldn't do that. I think that would be a big mistake for those guys individually," he said. "We talked about it as coaches with the NCAA that we'd like to have the flexibility to play our redshirts in at least four games. That would really help" -- and here he chuckled -- "I think I'd empty the tank if I could. But how can you predict these things going into the year? Unfortunately, we've had to do it in the past and it's not a good situation when you have to do that. But my hope, and the guys' hope, is that most of those guys will be back in some capacity early next week. That's our hope. Time will tell as things progress. But our hope is that will happen."
With a bye on Saturday and the need to heal, the `Cat varsity (as Fitzgerald calls his rotation players) will be held out of practice through at least Wednesday. "Then we'll see what we can get accomplished on Thursday and Friday," said Fitzgerald.
Running back Buckley, who was carted off the field in Lincoln, was scheduled to have an MRI on Monday afternoon. But even before getting its results, Fitzgerald said, "He's definitely out indefinitely."
It turns out Tony Jones had been hampered even before he sat down against the Cornhuskers. "He's been battling through some stuff the last two or three weeks, and the quad hasn't responded," said Fitzgerald. "He practiced (last Thursday), then went for a little while on Saturday. It just didn't respond. So we'll probably shut him down to the middle or maybe the end of next week to hopefully have him ready to go (when the `Cats host Michigan on Nov. 16).
The top three `Cats punt returners are Mark, Jones and safety Campbell. When the last got dinged up against the Cornhuskers, that left them to turn to redshirt freshman Mike McHugh. "He did a pretty good job for his first time out there," Fitzgerald said of him.
Walk-on Tim Hanrahan was the last 'Cats running back standing against the Cornhuskers. "(He's) our seventh tailback and he's in the game for a quarter or so," Fitzgerald said of that reality. "Timmy plays his fanny off. He gives everything he's got. But if you told me in August that we'd be playing at Nebraska with Timmy playing tailback for us, I would have thought you were crazy. Not because of Timmy. Because of the injury situation."
Jeff Budzien has been named a semifinalist for the Lou Groza Award, which goes to the nation's top place kicker.
AND FINALLY: The `Cats, in partnership with Under Armour, will honor the Wounded Warrior Project in its next game on Nov. 16 by wearing specially designed uniforms that include jerseys that do not have the players' names on the back. They will be replaced with the values of "Country," "Commitment," "Courage," Freedom," "Integrity," "Service," "Duty" and "Honor." All of those jerseys will be auctioned off after the game with 100 percent of the proceeds going to the Project. "We're very honored to represent our program in this way, our university in this way, and support all those who defended our country," said Fitzgerald.
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