BOISE - Boise State Head Football Coach Chris Petersen announced Monday that emerging tailback D.J. Harper will miss the rest of the 2009 season after suffering a likely ACL tear in his left knee against Fresno State.
"We think is going to be out for the year," Petersen said. "We think he has a torn ACL. Our doctors are pretty convinced. They're usually not wrong on those things." Harper was scheduled to have an MRI taken Monday afternoon. He injured the knee early in the fourth quarter when Fresno linebacker Kyle Knox blitzed into an open hole and tackled Harper for a 2-yard loss.
Petersen has prepared for this scenario all season long. Luckily he has Jeremy Avery still out there (45 carries, 279 yards, 6.2 ypc). Doug Martin, who has played sparingly at tailback (nine carries, 35 yards, 2 TD) will take Harper's place as the No. 2 tailback.
"Doug will kick over to offense and probably reverse his role," Petersen said. "We'll play him primarily on offense and see how it goes on defense if we need him there."
Martin had been battling with Winston Venable and Jason Robinson at nickelback. He is also on all the BSU special teams and returns kicks.
"Hat's off to Doug Martin," Petersen said. "We moved him to defense, now we need him back on offense and the guy doesn't bat an eye. Whatever he needs to do to get on the field and help this team, he's willing to do it."
Petersen said his staff hopes to get Harper a medical hardship waiver (often called a medical redshirt) because the injury happened so early in the season.
"It's hard on D.J." Petersen said. "But that's football. The silver lining in this whole thing is that we think we're going to get his year back. With ACLs the great work that Dr. [George] Wade and his staff do, he should come back just as good, if not stronger than before."
Wade is a team physician with the Idaho Sports Medicine Institute, located within Bronco Stadium. The timing of the injury opens the door for another year in Harper's case. The NCAA criteria state that a player can receive the waiver (administered by the member conference, in this case, the Western Athletic Conference) only if the injury takes place in the first three games, or 30 percent of the season (which ever is greater). Since Harper was hurt in the third game of the season, he is eligible for the waiver as long as BSU files the proper paperwork.
Regardless of the silver lining, this is a big loss for the Broncos. Harper leads the team with 284 yards rushing and three touchdowns. He was averaging 6.5 yards per carry, 94.7 yards per game. His loss will hurt on the stat sheet and in the huddle.
"You take a guy out of the mix and the chemistry changes," Petersen said. "D.J. was a very good team guy. He and Jeremy worked good together. I don't think we've seen the best of D.J. He was just starting to get warmed up."
That's probably the worst part of it. Harper sat and waited for years behind Ian Johnson. He worked his tail off to get primed for this season. Although it is a huge loss, Martin has proved to be a capable back. Petersen was stoked to have two backs like Avery and Harper, almost identical in style and work ethic. Martin is a different back, speedy and strong, a thumper up the middle. He's an ideal short-yardage back, but can still burn on the outside.
Last season BSU had too many tailbacks. They couldn't get them all the ball enough. Now, the position is a little thin. Behind Martin are Jarvis Hodge (2 carries, 10 yards) and Matt Kaiserman (nursing a head injury). Deep in the depth chart sits Malcolm Johnson, the dynamic true freshman the Broncos want to redshirt. Petersen said that as long as no one else goes down, Johnson will remain on the practice squad.
The ACL (Anterior Cruciate Ligament) is one of four major ligaments in the knee. It's the most common knee ligament injury among athletes. If Harper wants to play again, the injury will require surgery. Rehabilitation time varies from 6-9 months.