Many football coaches
himself in particular, says Weber's Mike Price - look atinjuries as excuses, convenient but invalid reasons for not winning.
So when Price really began to question himself about what went wrong with this season that looked so promising - after the Montana game that he considers his worst loss ever - he scrutinized lots of other things first: bad recruiting, bad coaching, conditioning, luck.But he couldn't find enough fault with those other things.
It had to be the injuries.
He recalled the list he makes at the beginning of every season. On it, he writes the 22 players who will be the keys. This season, he said to himself, "If we keep these 22 players healthy, if at the end of the year they're still healthy, we will have a great year."
Twelve of those players were lost before Weber played its ninth game, many of them much earlier. Seven had season-ending injuries. There were seven major knee injuries.
Losses were heavy in the middle of Weber's defense. The 'Cats lost tackle Mike Robinson for several games and went through four noseguards. "Every time we stuck somebody in there, he got hurt," Price says.
An offensive line that was very young to begin with was also hard-hit. Price never started the same offensive line more than three games.
Price doesn't even count the injuries to second- and third-line players, only those to starters and backups who became starters.
"I really believe we had a championship team," Price says.
The players dropping like flies affected those who were still playing. "It was really disheartening when two guys a game would go down with a knee or something," says quarterback Jeff Carlson, who played every game but was hampered for three with a bad finger and sterno-clavicular separation. "We'd be on the sideline and one of the defensive guys would go down, and we'd say, `Oh my gosh, not another one.' "
The injury list began with starting inside linebacker Troy Juergens, lost to a knee before the season started. Backup noseguard Bruce Covernton was hurt in the UTEP game and slowed all season. Starter Dave Palaniuk played two games at noseguard and went out for the season with a knee. Noseguard Clarence Noha got hurt, and so did Tim Noha when he moved there.
Robinson got hurt and played off and on; he missed the last three games.
Backup guard Tony Austin was lost for the season to a knee injury. So was offensive tackle Oscar Contreras. Offensive tackle Tom Stackaruk went out for good with a knee with :40 left at Eastern Washington. Guard Brook Hatfield is out after a season of problems. Guard Kelvin Dexter left several games, respraining an ankle frequently.
Roverback Darion Scott was hurt in the third game and out till last week. Wide receiver/punt returner Rick Justice was lost for the season to a knee injury on what Weber players called a cheap shot by Idaho State.
Cornerback/backup punt returner Rich Willis missed three games and played subsequent games with an arch injury. George Jackson started for injured Fine Unga at Eastern Washington and was lost for the season to an ankle sprain three plays into the game.
Additionally, linebacker Charlie Stoll played the whole season with a broken hand, Unga and Wade Orton played the last three games despite a thigh pull and bruised knee nerve, respectively. Both missed halves of games. Defensive end Taani Tai dislocated a shoulder last week in practice but played Saturday. Austin Peters missed two games. Carlson ached.
"At one point, I thought maybe I did not a championship job coaching," admits Price. "But we're a blink away from being 9-2 even with those injuries," he says. Weber had little chance against Montana and UTEP, he says. "But we could have beaten Boise State, Nicholls State and Idaho.
"Then," Price muses, "I'd have voted for myself as coach of the year."
Instead, the Wildcats are 5-5 with a chance to be 6-5 with a win Saturday in the season finale at Northern Arizona. A win there, however, could leave them with the second-best league record in the Big Sky, 5-3, though they'd still be in fourth place because a Boise win over Idaho would leave three teams at 6-2.