Wildcats survive most dangerous season

Chris Gentilviso

There’s a right way to play a spring football season, and a wrong way.

Saturday’s annual Spring Game showcased competitive spirit.

But more importantly, it showcased brains.

At the conclusion of his second Spring Game as a head coach, Pat Fitzgerald was beaming about his team’s performance.

“It’s kind of ideal for a head coach,” he said. “Offense had a good first half, defense finished strong in the second.”

But the dream and smile had to do with more than offensive and defensive play. Minus a harrowing leg injury to wide receiver Kevin Frymire, Fitzgerald’s roster of 105 all came off the field healthy.

Frymire took off his helmet, spit out his mouthguard, and grimaced in pain. That spelled the end of the day for seniors C.J. Bachér, Tyrell Sutton and others.

Fitzgerald must have known the statistics regarding spring football disasters.

Last May, the NCAA conducted a study in conjunction with the Journal of Athletic Training to diagnose what sports had the highest injury rates.

The first-place winner was spring football, with 9.6 injuries per 1,000 participants. That’s about one out of every 100 players. In other words, coaches will have on average one aneurysm per Spring Game.

Finishing in a distant second place was women’s gymnastics, with 6.1 per 1,000, followed by wrestling (5.7), women’s soccer (5.2) and men’s soccer (4.3).

Surprised not to see regular football on there? During the fall season, football has only a 3.8 injury rate, one-third that of spring football.

Maybe Fitzgerald watched tapes of Rick Neuheisel’s catastrophic spring practices at UCLA.

Days after receiving the job to coach the Bruins, Neuheisel made a public appearance on ABC during USC’s Rose Bowl thrashing of Illinois to comment on the crosstown rivalry. The former Bruins quarterback said he had confidence that his team could compete with the likes of college football mastermind Pete Carroll.

Maybe that confidence came from his excitement for the upcoming college basketball season – see his memorable 2003 exit from the University of Washington. Based on his coaching tactics in the spring, the Bruins made the wrong choice.

Karl Dorrell, who led UCLA to the Emerald Bowl last season before getting the axe, must be laughing in the heat of the Miami sun.

Starting quarterback Patrick Cowan tore his anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in practice Thursday and will miss the entire season. Cowan has already used his redshirt and would have to petition for a sixth year of eligibility.

This news came after 2007 quarterback Ben Olson announced he will undergo surgery on his right foot, missing six to eight weeks.

Olson’s injury occurred directly after Cowan went down. In fact, it was on the next play.

Necessary problems for the spring football season? Absolutely not.

Neuheisel was indignant about the blow these injuries would have on his quarterback position.

“We’re going to play that position well,” Neuheisel told the Los Angeles Times. “I have full confidence in (offensive coordinator) Norm Chow. I have full confidence in the kids.”

It’s always great to have confidence in kids roaming the sidelines. At this point, UCLA would be best suited to have the 47-year-old coach pull a Warren Moon by lining up behind center to relive his glory days.

Fitzgerald and the Cats capped a successful spring football season in many ways Saturday, without hard hits or stretchers.

They honored the memory of Randy Walker with the inaugural 5K Walk for Randy. They celebrated the return of a roster equipped with experienced players. They showcased the beginnings of the future with Dan Persa and Scott Concannon.

And most of all, Fitzgerald did his job – from the sidelines.

Deputy sports editor Chris Gentilviso is a Medill junior. He can be reached at [email protected]