Injury bug leaving its mark on the Irish
Matt Lozar | Friday, November 7, 2003
Last Saturday’s game against Florida State took Notre Dame’s injury problems to a whole new level.
Coming into that contest, the Irish already had a number of players out for lengthy periods of time due to injuries. Tight end Gary Godsey and linebacker Mike Goolsby haven’t played a down in the 2003 season. Godsey suffered a knee injury at the Gator Bowl and then endured a more serious knee injury during the first week of summer practice.
Goolsby injured his shoulder during the Gator Bowl and reinjured it during the spring. He has been participating in some of the team drills at practice, but not seeing any game time. One theory being thrown around is for Goolsby to be a red-shirt in 2003 and return in 2004 to use his fourth year of eligibility.
During the season, the Irish lost two fifth-year senior starters to what could be season-ending injuries. Safety Glenn Earl injured his knee against USC and went home last week to have surgery. Kicker and punter Nicholas Setta suffered a leg injury early in the game against Pittsburgh.
Neither Earl nor Setta has played or practiced since those injuries. While Earl’s knee surgery makes it appear he won’t return this season, thus ending his Notre Dame career, Setta hopes to return in the next few weeks.
Defensive end Kyle Budinscak appeared to severely injure his right leg against Florida State and slowly made his way from the bench to the locker room during the game. Notre Dame head coach Tyrone Willingham addressed his situation at Tuesday’s press conference.
“Kyle Budinscak will be out for this ballgame and maybe out for the next two ballgames,” Willingham said. “We’ll get some final word on that as we progress through the week.”
Budinscak has been a steady force on the Notre Dame defensive line for the past two seasons. But Willingham doesn’t think losing him the week before facing the top rushing attack in college football is any worse than losing Budinscak at any other time.
“He’s been a vital player for us in every game that we play. I think almost every team that we face has had very good running attacks,” Willingham said. “So that has been a priority to make sure we shut those down and hopefully force them to be a one-dimensional team.
“His loss will be important to us.”
Meanwhile, the already young and inexperienced offensive line has been hurt by injuries this entire season. Fifth-year guard Sean Milligan hasn’t started since the Michigan game and hasn’t played since the Michigan State game. The coaching staff started Darin Mitchell against the Spartans and Jamie Ryan against the Boilermakers before making a major change to the line.
True freshman Ryan Harris was a surprise start at right tackle against Pittsburgh. Then-right tackle Dan Stevenson moved into a more natural right guard position, thus ultimately replacing Milligan.
But against Florida State, Stevenson injured his left leg and was in a walking cast up to his knee at practice Tuesday. Ryan filled in for Stevenson during the second half against the Seminoles. Center Bob Morton also left the Florida State game due to injury but was back at practice this week.
All of these injuries have offensive line coach Mike Denbrock hoping the training staff can get his players ready for the Midshipmen.
“We are nicked up as of right now. We are just going to have to see how it plays out as the week goes along,” Denbrock said. “[Trainer] Jim Russ seems to do a great job in getting those guys ready by game time. We are going to put it in his hands and hope for the very best because we need to be as close to full strength as we possibly can.”
One of the players who is healthy on the offensive line is Harris, and he’s just thankful the injury bug hasn’t hit him yet.
“Injuries are just weird because in high school you don’t experience as many injuries, but here it’s just like another part of the game,” Harris said. “Everybody’s hurt, everybody’s bumped and bruised and it’s just part of the season and part of Division I football.
“[I am] very lucky, and it’s just a part of the game.”