As RJ Fitzgerald left the field, he raised his helmet to the air, prompting an uproar from those at Bobcat Stadium in support.
Fitzgerald had landed on his left arm incorrectly after a catch against Drake last weekend. Bobcats head coach Brent Vigen said the Montana State fullback will be out “probably at least a few weeks.”
Fitzgerald, a junior from Dillon, has played a vital role in MSU’s rushing attack as a blocker. He’s one of several players who have or will miss games due to injuries for the Bobcats already this season.
“That was terrible,” MSU running back Isaiah Ifanse said. “He’s one of the guys that works the hardest in the program.”
Heading into their next game against San Diego (0-2) at 1 p.m. Saturday at Bobcat Stadium, the No. 13-ranked Bobcats (1-1) believe they have talent to make up for those losses.
“Injuries are just part of it,” Vigen said. “Next man up is part of it. And as we build our depth, that’s got to be the way we think.”
Quincy Kent-Schneider was listed as the backup fullback after spring practices, but Vigen said he left the program before fall camp. Bobcats running back Jaharie Martin, Vigen indicated, may get some more work at fullback.
At 5-foot-11, 232 pounds, Martin saw time as linebacker and running back for the Bobcats in 2019 while redshirting. In four games, he rushed 10 times for 38 yards.
Martin did play some fullback against Drake last weekend, but Vigen said he saw as many snaps during the game at that position as he did during the week of practice leading up to it. However, Martin did spend some time at fullback during fall camp.
“He’s got a chance there,” Vigen said, “and he’s gonna have to step up.”
Vigen called Martin “the ideal option” to be MSU’s next fullback.
“We’ll get him prepared from that fullback perspective to do what we can with him,” Vigen said. “I think RJ’s experience and everything will have to be taken into account. RJ was capable of doing quite a bit from that fullback position. … We’ll have to take a look at that, but Jaharie will allow us to keep moving forward with a fullback on the team.”
MSU coaches have long boasted of the versatility their fullbacks and tight ends bring. This means a few tight ends could help the Bobcats with run blocking, as Ryan Davis has in the past, for example. During fall camp, Vigen expected contributions to be from “a three- or four-headed monster” at tight end.
“We’ve got other guys who can play that position,” Bobcats offensive coordinator Taylor Housewright said. “Our tight ends are very versatile. Jaharie Martin is very versatile playing running back and fullback so nothing changes for us. The next man up. We put them in there and see what they can do and work their butt off and allow us to be versatile from that standpoint and be able to punch people in the mouth a little bit.”
Going into the Drake game, the Bobcats were without at least six other players who were on the depth chart at the beginning of fall camp: defensive back Tyrel Thomas, defensive tackle Kyle Rygg, wide receiver Nate Stewart, center Cole Sain, running back Lane Sumner and kicker Luke Pawlak.
However, the Bobcats have been uplifted by their depth. On defense, Ty Okada shifted from safety to nickelback and led MSU with eight tackles last week. The Bobcats have also lauded Blake Hehl, a transfer from Tarleton State who became the new starter at defensive tackle.
With Stewart sidelined, Lance McCutcheon and Willie Patterson have still had their own standout moments. Bobcats coaches have been complimentary of Bozeman’s Justus Perkins as he’s started at center. Ifanse has continued to take a majority of the carries at running back. Blake Glessner has made 2 of 3 field goals and 5 of 6 extra points.
A benefit of MSU not playing last spring during the postponed 2020 campaign was a better chance of being healthy in 2021. However, Vigen recognized injuries aren’t uncommon in the sport. How MSU deals with them, he added, is vital.
“We’re gonna be down some guys here and there,” Vigen said, “and we’ve just got to forge ahead.”