UC’s offensive stars nursing injuries
One benefit of opening the season with two-straight games on Thursday night is the extra day and a half of rest on the back end when preparing for a Saturday contest the following week.
And if any team needed a little bit of extra rest heading into West Virginia Conference play, it was the University of Charleston.
The Golden Eagles have gotten off to a solid 2-0 start with nonconference wins over Shaw and St. Joseph's College, but the latter of those two victories didn't come without a price.
Starting quarterback Maurice Leak and running back Jordan Roberts were both injured during the St. Joseph's game and freshman right tackle Justin Johnson was lost for a substantial amount of time after breaking his leg.
UC coach Pat Kirkland said neither Leak nor Roberts have been practicing and are day-to-day.
"We've got our fingers crossed," Kirkland said of Leak and Roberts. "I can't even put a percentage on it. I'd say 50/50 but that's being optimistic.
"[Johnson] really worked his tail off to get to this point and I really feel bad for him and his family. I can't say enough about how well he was playing. I just hope he keeps his head up and realizes he's young and he's got a bright future here."
On the bright side, while some of UC's stars were going down last Thursday, its reserves were stepping up.
This is especially true for freshman quarterback John Knox who threw for 145 yards and two touchdowns on 5-of-12 passing and added 53 yards rushing on 11 carries. Meanwhile, backup running backs C.J. Stallworth and Dustin Phelps combined for 96 yards on 12 attempts.
"[Knox] stepped in and ran the offense as if Leak was playing," Kirkland said. "They are really similar quarterbacks and Johnny has done a tremendous job with a lot of credit going to [offensive coordinator] coach [Jason] Vrable. He prepares each week like he's the starter, he's got a live arm, he's a great athlete, but he's still young."
Whoever plays, UC will undoubtedly face its toughest challenge to date this week with a 1 p.m. kickoff at Concord. The Mountain Lions won the WVC last year and handed Charleston a 38-15 loss at UC Stadium last season as the Golden Eagles dropped their first five games.
Kirkland said the Eagles can nary afford a sluggish start this time around.
"You never want to dig a hole in conference play," Kirkland said. "Right now we control our destiny and we want to win every game."
West Virginia State is turning into the Division II version of Division I FCS Savannah State.
Like the team that played back-to-back games against FBS powers Oklahoma State and Florida State, the Yellow Jackets are preparing for a second straight date against a Division I school when it travels to Elon on Saturday for a 3 p.m. kickoff.
State was shelled last week to the tune of a 77-0 beating from North Carolina A&T State and this week figures to offer little relief with Southern Conference foe Elon coming in off of a 34-14 win over North Carolina Central.
Still, the Jackets will try to muster some semblance of offense after collecting just two first downs and 46 yards last week.
If nothing else, the brutality of State's early schedule should prepare it for its conference opener on Sept. 22 at home against Concord.
Jackets coach Earl Monroe did not return a Gazette reporter's phone call requesting an interview.
Of the vast array of weapons Kirkland has at his disposal, the name Puma Nuredini usually isn't one of the first to come up.
However, the role Nuredini plays for UC is extremely important and multifaceted.
The junior handles all of the kicking duties for the Golden Eagles and has been rock solid this season including booting a school-record 49-yard field goal last week and earning WVC special teams player of the week honors in the process.
"He's an all-conference kid from last year and the coaches in the conference recognized him as that," Kirkland said.
"We ask a lot of him. He handles all of the kicking responsibility right now and we have a lot of diversity in where we place the ball on kickoffs and punts. He's been clutch making key field goals right now. I'm knocking on wood because I want it to continue, but I've been impressed with the way he's handling punting."
Glenville State's Darold Hughes was named the league's offensive player of the week while Marco Ricchetti of West Liberty earned the defensive player of the week award.
Hughes went 13-for-20 for 258 yards and three scores as the Pioneers took down Fairmont State last Thursday. Ricchetti recorded 81/2 tackles including four for loss and added an interception and a pass break-up in the Hilltoppers' win over Virginia State.
Reach Ryan Pritt at 304-348-7948, firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him at twitter.com/RPritt.