By BRAD KEITH
With injuries mounting for winless Tarleton State, head coach Cary Fowler sees an opportunity for his program.
Fowler says 26 true or redshirt freshmen are on the travel roster for Saturday's game at winless Division I-FCS Northwestern State.
While the first-year head coach would rather not have to deal with a rash of injuries that has most affected the offensive backfield and both lines and has also taken its toll at linebacker, he says he is excited to see the growth of so many young players.
"I'm excited to see how we respond, especially with our young guys," Fowler said. "This freshman class is going to be special once they grow up and everything clicks for them. It might happen three weeks from now or next year, but it might happen Saturday night."
Tarleton was awaiting doctors' final verdict concerning running back Evan Robertson Wednesday. Robertson was injured after rushing for 64 yards on 10 carries last week at Central Oklahoma.
The Texans were already running their offense through red-shirt freshman Aaron Doyle, who is filling in for injured starter Nick Stephens. Doyle was 14-26 for 173 yards and a touchdown and also tossed an interception in the 37-21 loss to UCO.
At running back, both backups - Jerome Regal and Brandon Lowery - are true freshmen. Regal has rushed for 50 yards on 16 carries through two games while Lowery ran twice for seven yards last week.
"I'm really looking forward to how Jerome responds. He's an exciting football player to watch, and I think we're going to see him make some big strides as the season goes on," Fowler said. "Brandon will get some more work, and he'll also be returning kicks for us."
Another key freshman is linebacker Julius Hurndon, a red-shirt who was first-team All-State for 2A Division I state champ Daingerfield his senior year. Hurndon stepped in for Matt Knicky, Tarleton's leading returning tackler, after he broke his hand snagging an interception last week. The freshman made six tackles including two for loss.
"We have a freshman quarterback, two freshman running backs and two freshmen on the offensive line," said Fowler. "We're also getting Kenyin Thompson back at corner this week and he's a freshman."
Thompson is a backup, while another corner, red-shirt freshman Dashaun Phillips, is a starter. Phillips had a tough game at corner at UCO, but had punt returns of 21 and 18 yards.
"Dashaun looked good returning punts," Fowler said. "He's another one who's going to be fun to watch develop."
Nothing has been fun about watching the Texans when they are kicking or punting. A missed field goal by Blake Wiest kept Tarleton from tying the game at halftime last week, and punts of four and 13 yards by Jerry Owens set up UCO scores.
"Those guys are both freshmen, too, and they struggled last week," Fowler said. "But what fires me up about those guys is their initiative. They called (2009 Tarleton All-American kicker) Garrett Lindholm and asked him to come work with them and help them get better. That's the drive they have. All of these young guys have it."
Fowler says he is still preaching national championship, and believes the young players are buying into it.
"Aaron Doyle said after last week's game that he will win a national championship here," Fowler said. "That's the kind of attitude and motivation I'm looking for."