Since the start of this season, Fresno State has had to deal with
numerous injuries along the offensive line and in the defensive
secondary. Freshman Anthony Riggins has had step in due to injuries.
Amrah Camul / The Argonaut
The Fresno State football team has again had its share of ill fortune this season when it comes to injuries.
In recent years violent hits and freak occurrences have caused players to lose playing time with this year being no exception.
The offensive line and safety positions have been bit the hardest by the injury bug with numerous players missing games so far this season. Some of the players were key starters coming into the season and now the Bulldogs have had to try to get the replacements up to speed with so many crucial upcoming games on the schedule.
Fresno State plays Southeastern Conference member Mississippi this Saturday and new Mountain West Conference member Boise State on Oct. 7. Run-game coordinator Derek Frazier talked about the kind of players he covets.
“You always have contingences to have guys that have to be able to play multiple positions,” Frazier said.
After the first four weeks of the season, Fresno State has already lost both of its starting safeties for the season. First, the Bulldogs lost their most experienced starting safety in Phillip Thomas after he broke his leg just days before the season opener against California. Then, last week, the Bulldogs lost their other opening-day starter Derron Smith after he broke his arm against North Dakota.
Senior safety Zak Hill is coming off of a season-ending surgery from last season and now is battling with a nagging hamstring injury. With so many injuries, inexperienced juniors Terrance Dennis and Cristin Wilson have been thrown into the fire as they have seen the most playing time at safety.
“They’ve been working all season at the position and they’re doing a solid job,” defensive coordinator Randy Stewart said.
Now, with so many players on the injury list, the coaching staff has been forced to have players switch positions to create some depth behind the starters. J.B. Dock and Sean Alston are former cornerbacks who have made the switch to safety and now will be called upon as a few primary reserves.
“Hopefully those backup guys have time to get enough experience under their belts to know what they’re comfortable with before they go into live bullets,” Stewart said.
The offensive line has had to shuffle players throughout due to some injuries, causing a unit that was thin numbers wise going into the season to now be even more depleted. During the season opener against California, starting center Richard Helepiko injured his ankle and still there is no timetable on when he will return.
The Bulldogs have also been without guard Matt Hunt who injured his ankle during the second game of the season against Nebraska. Like Helepiko, there is also no timetable for his return to the lineup.
Senior guard Leslie Cooper has been learning a new position on the go after making the jump to center. Sophomore Austin Wentworth has moved from tackle to guard and freshman Cody Wichmann has stepped in as the starting right tackle.
After starting the season as the seventh linemen off the bench, junior Trevor Richter has worked his way into the starting guard position, filling in for Hunt. The one constant on the offensive line has been three-year starting left tackle Bryce Harris, who is the lone linemen to start every game at the same position since the start of the season. The offensive line had its most successful game as a unit on Saturday, giving up no sacks and paving the way for Robbie Rouse’s 112 yards against Idaho.
The injuries to the starters have given the backups opportunities to step up and show that they have the necessary skills to be able to contribute at the collegiate level.
“The one thing about opportunity, it’s not nice. It doesn’t wait for you,” Frazier said.
Despite the fact that Fresno State is facing its fair share of injuries, it does not detract from the mentality that Stewart is trying to instill.
“Every game is a dog fight until the end, whether it’s Nebraska or North Dakota,” Stewart said.