Arizona’s traveling squad to Stanford will include six trainers and two doctors, or roughly one medical attendant for every seven players.
After the unusually high number of injuries incurred by UA football players this season, you wonder: Is that enough? Only six trainers?
These questions do not make Randy Cohen smile or even change expressions.
“Everybody’s beat up in college football,” he said after arriving at 4:30 a.m. Wednesday for the UA’s rare morning practice. “The question is: Are you missing (game) time?”
Cohen is the UA’s associate athletic director for medical services, a Purdue grad who is chair of the NCAA athletic trainers’ committee. He looks at college football much differently than the guy in Row 23, Seat 14.
“Probably the No. 1 factor of teams that win championships, across the board, is that their starters play all season,” he said. “It used to be that we’d patch them up and they’d hobble out there and push through it. You had guys gimping around all the time. Most of that has changed.
“I also think the kids are a little more conservative with their bodies. They see the long-term consequences; they’re worried about what happens down the line. They don’t rush it.”
In 1993, the height of the Desert Swarm years, Arizona’s defensive regulars started 130 of 132 possible games. In Arizona’s historic 12-1 season, 1998, the UA’s regulars started 145 of a possible 156 games.
Already this season, the Wildcats have used 18 different defensive starters. Incredibly, only 15 defensive players started for Arizona during the 2014 Pac-12 South championship season.
Now the team’s two most essential players, quarterback Anu Solomon and linebacker Scooby Wright, are injured. I strongly suspect Wright won’t play again in 2015. He has a foot injury. Solomon suffered a concussion against UCLA and is officially “day-to-day.” The UA’s injury report will be released around noon Thursday.
“We’ll play with 11,” Rich Rodriguez said Wednesday morning. “The injury thing is what it is.”
Here’s how important “the injury thing” can be:
In 2013, Arizona was 5-2 as it traveled to Cal for a game against the then-woeful Bears, who finished the season 1-11. In the days leading up to the game, Cohen treated 35 players for various injuries and placed 23 on limited or no practice availability.
Thus diminished, Arizona hung on to beat Cal 33-28 in a game not decided until an onside kick with 2:14 remaining, It was Cal’s only competitive Pac-12 game of the season.
“I don’t necessarily think there are more injuries now than previously; perhaps this is just cyclical for us,” said Cohen. “But I do know there is more news about injuries than ever. Every time you look at the ticker on the bottom of the TV screen, it’s filled with news of those who are injured. If a guy’s walking around with a boot on his foot, boom, it’s on Twitter.”
If the UA is fortunate, it will never match its 1991 season for injuries. In what was Dick Tomey’s only losing season between 1987-2000, the Wildcats started four right tackles, four tight ends, four nose guards, six outside linebackers and three quarterbacks, including, ironically enough, walk-on QB Billy Prickett, now Dr. William Prickett, one of the team physicians in Cohen’s network of medical services.
The Wildcats went 4-7. Because of injuries, Mu Tagoai started games at right tackle, right guard, left guard and tight end.
“There is some data from a 2-year-old NFL study that shows there are more foot sprains and more bad ankle sprains since the advent of field turf,” said Cohen. “It’s not a huge number, but there has been a spike of more foot-related injuries because there’s not as much give on field turf as there is on grass.”
College football has changed significantly from 1991 when Tagoai gamely played unfamiliar positions from week to week. Today, an out-of-position — or gimpy — player is considered a significant liability.
“If a player chooses to play through the pain and limps out there, opposing coaches expose it immediately,” said Cohen. “The game’s so fast, so technical, that you can’t have a guy out there who’s 80 percent. Opposing coaches find your weak link. The dynamics have changed.”
Every Pac-12 school has world-class training facilities for football. Since Cohen arrived in 2001, Arizona’s football training staff has gone from 1½ full-time employees to six. The spacious training room at Lowell-Stevens Football Facility has 12 treatment tables, hot tubs, cold tubs, every imaginable treatment and injury-prevention device. On most days in football season, Cohen and his staff are on duty from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Game time is 1 p.m. each Sunday when Cohen supplies RichRod with an update and treatment schedule of the team’s injured players. Many weeks the list exceeds 30 players.
This week it includes Scooby and Solomon.