The Eagles (2-2, 1-0 Mid-South Conference) lost their first two games by a combined five points. Since then, they’ve won their last two, including last week’s upset of then-No. 24 Faulkner. All that has made the first-year Reinhardt program the favorite over Bethel (0-4, 0-1).
“We kind of changed roles,” Reinhardt coach Danny Cronic said. “I kind of liked the underdog role. But that isn’t to say the team coming in isn’t good. They haven’t had success, but they have the potential to.”
As much as Reinhardt’s players have been preparing for Bethel on the field, the coaches have been working in the background to put the best possible team on the field.
However, that hasn’t been easy.
Four weeks into the season, the Eagles are adding players to the injured list faster than they can take them off. The results are even more freshmen playing and a few players changing positions. Reinhardt has at least 15 players who are either doubtful for or out of today’s game.
“It is significant,” Cronic said. “Some of those have been going on the whole season. I guess this week has been more about moving personnel around and seeing what we can kind of get together. Most of it on the offensive side.”
The fullback position has been hit particularly hard. P.J. Greene, Niagel Curtis, Chris Gaines and Johnathan Abrams have all been either ruled out for the game or are listed as doubtful. Greene hasn’t played since the season opener, while Curtis and Abrams played in each of the four games. Abrams suffered a possible concussion earlier this week, after he had already twisted his ankle.
Defensive back D.J. Sellers is out as he prepares to undergo shoulder surgery, while sophomore linebacker Chas Pierce, a former Woodstock High School standout, will miss the game with lingering neck problems. Center Brandon Keith also suffered a concussion, George Hiteshew was shaken up in a car accident Sunday night and linebacker Tyler Martin is still nursing an ankle injury.
Of all those players, only Hiteshew is expected to see time today.
Carl Edouard is expected to step in at fullback, along with former Cherokee High School quarterback Dylan Haynes.
Linebacker Blake Barnes is one player who has made the most of his time on the field. The freshman from Fayetteville began the season as a reserve on the depth chart, but is now a starter. Last week, he was named the Mid-South’s Defensive Player of the Week.
Other players who have moved quickly up the chart include linebacker Troboris Tarver and wide receiver Trey Phillips.
So far, only a couple of players who began the season with injuries have been able to return. Among them are tight end Shane McCleskey, a former Woodstock standout, and linebacker A.J. Thomas.
Even though there might be healthier players on the field, simply having a newer player at the position is a setback. Reinhardt is limited as far as what it can do by the number of plays it can master in just a few days’ time.
“It’s just not a plug-in deal,” Cronic said. “You have to come back to a little more of a vanilla (playbook) when you have a lot of injuries.”
Cronic said the number of injuries his players have encountered has been surprising, and that some of that goes back to how young the team is.
“When it hits you at one position is when you notice the depth,” he said. “Seeing that, you need to have a lot of depth at this level. All of us are vulnerable to that.”
Reinhardt faced a second-string quarterback when it beat Kentucky Christian two weeks ago, and Cronic suspects there were a few injured players last week on the Faulkner sideline as well.
In looking at Bethel, Cronic likens the Wildcats to the Eagles’ Week 2 opponent, Lindsey Wilson, with their ability to both run and pass the ball. Still, Bethel hasn’t scored more than 14 points in any single game. In fact, it’s put up just 32 points in its first four games combined.
“I don’t know them as well as I would like,” Cronic said. “It’s very much surprising that they are 0-4.”
Tickets are still available for today’s game and can be purchased at the gate for $15.