Wolfson: Injured defensive lineman can't wait to get back on the field
Wednesday August 22, 2001 |
Considering Arizona Stadium was empty during the UA football team's two-hour scrimmage last night, somebody had to provide the cheering.
Meet defensive lineman-turned-fanatic Eli Wnek.
Wnek, diagnosed with a stress fracture in his right ankle on July 31, was on crutches last night, trying his best to get into the action.
"If he gets a chance, Eli will even throw one of his crutches out there and try to trip someone," said head coach John Mackovic.
On one goal-line stand by the defense, Wnek threw both of his crutches in the air and hobbled around in satisfaction.
Wnek is counting down the days before he is able to get back on to the field.
"I just love football," he said. "It's just killing me that I'm not able to be in there. Right now, I am living vicariously through the rest of the team."
The 6-foot-3, 243-pounder will have his chance in 16 days, when the half-cast on his right ankle is removed. The senior will be reevaluated in the following weeks.
For Wnek, that day can't come soon enough.
The injury almost seems fitting for a player whose UA career has been marked with sudden, unexpected changes.
The Glendale native flourished as a freshman defensive lineman in 1998, racking up 31 tackles and five sacks while starting in nine games.
As a sophomore, Wnek was moved to fullback and H-back because of UA's depth on the defensive line.
Mackovic's December hiring coupled with the departure of senior Joe Tafoya gave Wnek an opportunity to move back to the position he played as a freshman.
"I told coach that it would be awesome if I could play defense again," he said.
Mackovic said he felt comfortable from the start with Wnek's request.
"I like players to play where they want to play," Mackovic said. "I said, 'What the heck?' Plus, I took a look at him and he does not look like one of our running backs."
Wnek had made the most of his second chance on the line.
He was given the Outstanding Hustle Award in spring practice, where he totaled 11 sacks and one fumble recovery.
Wnek was ready to have a breakout senior season until he tweaked his right ankle a month ago.
Despite the early injury, the senior said he felt good enough to participate in conditioning tests in late July. While running July 31, he said he felt his ankle pop.
"I knew that day it really hurt him that he knew he wasn't going to be able to be out there," Mackovic said.
When the Wildcats travel to San Diego next Thursday, Wnek will be on the sideline like he has each practice since his injury.
Mackovic said bringing Wnek - who will take up a roster spot on the trip - was a no-brainer.
"When Eli came out on the first day of practice in full pads, I knew we were not leaving him home," Mackovic said. "He means too much to us. He is out early, stays late, he works out. It means a lot."
Wnek is excited, to say the least.
"I am just so thankful that coach is letting me go," he said. "He has been really compassionate."
If Wnek can display as much energy as he showed on the sideline last night in the scrimmage, San Diego State better watch out.
You never know when one of those crutches will fly out of his hands again.