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KALAMAZOO (WQLR) – Name a sports injury and PJ Fleck has probably read it on an injury report for his football team. Whether he was prepared for it or not, the Broncos’ first year head coach has sincerely embraced the “next man up” mentality, and so has his team.
For those unfamiliar with the idea, “next man up” is the idea that when a starter goes down, the player behind them is ready to fill their place.
Through any number of concussions, sprains, and broken bones the 2013 edition of Bronco Football has had to combat a firestorm of injuries with youth and inexperience. Before the first snap of the season against Michigan State, Western Michigan’s offense touted a youthful exuberance thanks to a broken ankle suffered by their leading receiver Jamie Wilson. Wilson was looking to build on what was a sensational freshman campaign where he hauled in 67 receptions for 792 yards and six scores and was named MAC Freshman of the Year. Instead Wilson’s shoes have had to be filled by a corps who Coach Fleck proudly dubbed the “No Name Crew”. True Freshman Corey Davis was leading the “No Name Crew” with 23 catches for 335 yards and two touchdowns through four games. His fourth game was cut short due to a concussion he suffered against Iowa, and did not play in the Broncos MAC opener with Kent State.
Next man up? At least in the case of the Kent State game, that distinction goes to sophomore Kendrick Roberts. The Flint Southwestern grad hauled in four catches for 73 yards in the Broncos 32-14 loss to the Golden Flashes. Despite the loss, his contributions weren’t lost on his head coach.
“Thank God for Kendrick Roberts,” Fleck said Tuesday at the weekly press conference.
Through his endless optimism, Fleck also knows the reality of a senior quarterback throwing to a group of inexperienced and largely untested receivers.
“The comradery that’s built during camp and practice just isn’t there when you’re having to constantly shuffle in a new group,”
Fleck explained, and quickly followed up with, “That in no way explains or excuses our record, but it presents the challenge to our coaching staff to tweak the game plan to set these guys up for success.”
Senior quarterback Tyler VanTubbergen has struggled in 2013, throwing nine interceptions against three touchdowns.
Following Coach Fleck’s lead, I’m not about to explain away the 0-5 start for Western Michigan with youth and inexperience. I will, however, advise Bronco Nation to look beyond the 0-5 record, the youth, and the inexperience. Instead pay attention to what’s going on during this valuable learning process. The players that are building the future and will be writing the history for Bronco Football are playing right now. Getting caught up in the X’s and O’s and wins and losses might make us miss the “Next Man Up.”
Western Michigan (0-5, 0-1 MAC) travels to Toledo (2-3, 1-1) on Saturday October 5th. Listen to Robin Hook and John Creek starting at 2 pm on 96.5 FM WZOX