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McNeese quarterback Cody Stroud passes under pressure from the Weber State defense during the second quarter Saturday in Ogden, Utah. (Associated Press)<br>

McNeese quarterback Cody Stroud passes under pressure from the Weber State defense during the second quarter Saturday in Ogden, Utah. (Associated Press)

Hickey: Viator no stranger to losing stars to injury

Last Modified: Sunday, September 16, 2012 7:22 PM

By Alex Hickey / American Press

Matt Viator was in a good mood following Saturday night’s win over Weber State, and with good reason. Despite coming up short on three makeable scoring opportunities while the game was still tight, McNeese State still took down the Wildcats with relative ease in a tough road venue.

But even as he cheerfully chatted while the Cowboys waited to board their charter flight in Salt Lake City, his eyes told a different story. It was impossible for his gaze to avoid the sight of Malcolm Bronson leaning on a pair of crutches some 30 feet away.

He never said a word about it, but one wonders if a thought bubble with the words “not again” was floating above his head. The injury bug seems to single out Viator’s best players with mind-numbing regularity, and Bronson is the latest victim.

There’s still no official word on Bronson’s status, though it obviously involves his knee. McNeese’s best NFL prospect was injured on a Weber State punt return in the third quarter.

That’s one of the perils of FCS football.

If this was LSU, you could yell about why on earth the team’s best player is on the punt defense unit. Not here.

With 22 fewer scholarships at this level, there just isn’t the same depth. Your best players have to play on special teams or you’re liable to get burned. At the end of the day, that may be the single biggest difference between the two levels — in terms of physical size, FCS Weber State was certainly bigger than FBS Middle Tennessee State. But MTSU doesn’t have its stars doing grunt work.

Bronson’s injury didn’t seem like one of those obviously bad moments when it happened. There was no prolonged stoppage or cart-off. It was just one of those deals where you notice he isn’t on the field and then the next moment you see him, he’s on crutches.

Bronson didn’t have the look of someone whose season just ended. He happily chatted with the bearded, long-haired airport worker who offered him a lift to McNeese’s charter plane, though unfortunately that guy didn’t appear to have the healing powers of a more famous fellow who sported his look.

It will take doctors and machinery to determine if Bronson’s knee ligament are as strong as his psyche. If not, it will be another tough blow for a coach who has absorbed plenty of them over the years.

Viator’s best team was the 2007 group that went undefeated in the regular season, and its best player was defensive end Bryan Smith. Smith got hurt at the end of the year, missed the playoffs and the result was an ugly first-round exit to Eastern Washington.

The next year, the Cowboys picked up a huge non-conference win at South Dakota State early in the season. But it came at a cost. Wide receiver Quinten Lawrence, another future NFL player, was lost for the season with a broken leg. McNeese battled but missed the playoffs after a loss at Central Arkansas to end the season.

In 2009, running back Toddrick Pendland broke his wrist near the end of the regular season and had to wear a cast in the playoff game against New Hampshire. He wasn’t the same player, and sure enough the Cowboys lost, although in that case there was a laundry list of other factors in play.

Offensive lineman Miguel Gauthreaux was by no means the best athlete on McNeese’s team last season, but the loss of his leadership after a knee injury in preseason camp was a void that never got filled. Likewise, the loss of quarterback Riley Dodge was a huge one to overcome because it rendered an entire element of the Cowboy offense useless.

Here we go again, or so it would appear.

One can only hope that Bronson’s injury is not too serious — not just for the team’s sake, but his own. Every player dreams of a chance to play on Sunday, but he is one of the select few actually good enough to see that dream through. It would be a shame for him to not have that opportunity, which he has certainly earned.

If Bronson’s injury is serious — and with a knee, that possibility always reigns as the most likely — McNeese has to find a way to get past it and continue what can be a special season.

It won’t be easy, but it won’t be impossible. If this group turns out to be Viator’s best team, it will be because they are the ones who find a way to overcome the one same old problem that just won’t leave McNeese alone.

•••

Alex Hickey covers McNeese State athletics. Email him at ahickey@americanpress.com

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