Last Sunday, Casey Carroll was running and planted his leg to cut back toward the ball on an ordinary play. No offensive or defensive player touched him, but his leg crumpled and gave out, sending him straight to the ground. It was a troubling scene, though initial indications left the severity of the injury to his knee uncertain. The MRI was inconclusive. But later in the week, it was learned that the fifth-year senior and starting Stanford defensive end had torn his ACL. Carroll had repair surgery Friday at Stanford Hospital and is lost for the year.
Teammates have already visited the beloved fifth-year senior and were comforted by his demeanor, in the face of a crushing disappointment.
"He's in good spirits," reports classmate and fellow defensive lineman Babatunde Oshinowo. "He's the kind of guy who won't let this get him down. That was good to see."
While Carroll may be able to put on a good face for his teammates, there is no denying the emotional hurt with his loss - for the breadth of the team. The fifth-year senior is well liked by anybody who meets him, and there was a lot of excited chatter from people rooting for him to succeed. Carroll played in a reserve roll, albeit an important one, on the defensive line rotation the last three years. 2005 was to be his biggest season yet, not only with the opportunity to be a full-time starter, but also with tremendous strides he had made in his game these past nine months.
Carroll was a solid player the past few years, providing quickness and toughness at defensive end, but he was putting something special together this year. The light had come on, so to speak, for him. His savvy and understanding of how to employ his 6'2" 285-pound body to beat blockers had him making plays at a rate that far eclipsed what we had seen in his earlier years on The Farm. It also helped that Carroll was teamed up with a pair of fellow seniors in Oshinowo and Julian Jenkins. Not only are those two among the best in the Pac-10; their chemistry with Carroll made the trio better than the sum of their parts. Just as is the case with offensive linemen, there are improvements that come for defensive linemen only with the accumulation of experience. These three have for the last four years worked together on their wile and tricks of the trade.
"It's a big hit because he's a senior. He's been around four years," Oshinowo explains. "There are a lot of intangibles, in terms of reads and knowing the defense and opposing offenses - which you get from playing for a long time. That and just the improvement he made in the off-season; Casey was looking at a really good year."
"He's really a good football player, and his loss is really going to hurt this football team," comments head coach Walt Harris. "Plus he's a senior, which makes it extremely difficult to stomach - for him as well as his teammates."
The loss is felt more acutely by Oshinowo than anybody else. They are not only position mates and classmates who signed with Stanford together in February 2001; they met and bonded since their official visit together the first weekend of December 2000.
"It's hard because Casey was one of the reasons I wanted to come to Stanford," Oshinowo offers. "He was the first person I met here, and we both played the same position, so we got to know each other. He's been really cool these last four years. It was really sad to hear that he was going to be out."
When a player is lost for the year to a medical situation like this, there is the immediate question of whether that season of eligibility can be recovered. 2005 is Carroll's fifth year, however, and the NCAA only rarely grants sixth-year waivers. Those select few grants are given typically for extraordinary circumstances where great hardship caused the player to miss two of his first five years of play. Some of those situations can come from family crises, financial hardship or injuries. For the most part, a player should have had injuries that held him out of two seasons. A voluntary redshirt or transfer year are the most common "ordinary" reason a player sits out a year, and will likely give the NCAA little reason to give a sixth year. Unless there is documentation of some medical difficulty which plagued Carroll during the fall of 2001, when he redshirted his first year on The Farm, he will likely not have an "extraordinary" case to present to the NCAA for a sixth year. That would mean that Carroll has played his last college football for Stanford.
"I have no idea on that," Harris responds to the question of a sixth year. "I don't know how optimistic you can be, honestly."
While there is every reason to be saddened, on both a personal and athletic level, for the loss of Casey Carroll in this 2005 season, there is still a season to be played. The Cardinal have to move forward as best they can. The season opener is in just 13 days, leaving little time for tears. Carroll's left defensive end position has been manned since his injury last Sunday by redshirt freshman Gustav Rydstedt. While Walt Harris declined yesterday to declare the starter at that position, all evidence points to the Stockholm, Sweden native. Though short on college experience, Rydstedt does bring unusual physical maturity. He turned 21 in July and brings size and strength to the position, at 6'4" and a shade under 300 pounds.
Like Carroll, Rydstedt is a high energy player who plays with a great motor. Both are tenacious and relentless. Rydstedt brings greater size, but one can not overstate the gap in experience and understanding lost when dropping from a fifth-year senior to a redshirt freshman. Carroll had everything figured out and put together for this fall, while Rydstedt has never stepped inside the sideline for a college football game. Additionally, Carroll played low with a great pad level. Rydstedt may be strong, but he today does not play as powerfully as Carroll because he has does not play as low.
The next player at the left defensive end position is redshirt sophomore Chris Horn. He has moved up from the third team to the second team defense since Carroll's injury, and that could put Horn in a position to play in the defensive line rotation on Saturdays this fall. The Wyoming native has promising tools but mentally has not yet put together how to employ them effectively at the speed of the college game. Horn's development in the coming weeks will be critical for the Cardinal, but if he does not appear to be game-ready in the eyes of defensive line coach Dave Tipton, then look for redshirt freshman Pannel Egboh to help spell Rydstedt. Egboh plays at the right defensive end and is needed to help rotate with Julian Jenkins, but Jenkins can play a lot of snaps, and Egboh could reasonably play both end positions as part of a five-man rotation on the defensive line. Egboh is a very exciting physical specimen, who like Rydstedt is absent any college game experience but has a promising future.
"We're really ready to rally," Oshinowo pronounces "The guys behind him, Gustav and Chris, are starting to step it up. Especially Gustav. It's really exciting to see him work on his game to a finer degree. He's got a lot of energy. He's got really good strength. He's always active. Our plan going into the season was that with the guys behind there wouldn't be much drop-off. While we do lose a lot without Casey, in terms of his experience and how his play had picked up, Gustav still brings a lot to the table. He's strong and fast. This will definitely be good for him. You'll see a lot of growth from him early on in the season, from game one to game two to game three - he's going to get a lot better."
That is a positive outlook from a positive man in Oshinowo, but the analysis is decisively negative with the loss of Casey Carroll this year. You have heard Walt Harris say numerous times since the spring that he felt the Stanford defense could be "dominant" this fall, and he pointed consistently to the all-senior starting defensive line as its core strength. Not only did Carroll bring what was expected to be a high level of play this year, but he also was a consistent performer who had little chance of breakdowns that could besiege the defense. He is being replaced by players who will carry substantial uncertainty and inconsistency. Rydstedt, Horn and Egboh have bright futures, and they could be as good or better than Carroll by their fifth years, but they cannot approach his play today. That step down on the defensive line will be felt be felt by the entire defense, and in turn by the entire Stanford team.
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