Already limping and bandaged, the University of Central Arkansas Bears received a gut shot Saturday.
Injuries are inevitable in college football. Some years, they are more numerous and debilitating than others.
Every team has a player or two they cannot afford to lose to a significant injury.
Wynrick Smothers was that player for the Bears, breaking a bone near his right ankle Saturday, putting a bittersweet touch in a victory over Nebraska-Kearney.
As UCA coach Clint Conque has described many times, he was the face of the UCA program, the clear leader of the team. He’s one of the greatest and most successful quarterbacks in UCA history. He’s fourth in career offense at UCA in just a season and a half as a starter.
He’s also one of the unluckiest players in UCA history. He only finished one season — last year when he led the Bears to a Southland Conference championship, the second round of the NCAA Division II playoffs and was the conference’s Offensive Player of the Year.
Smothers also is one of my favorite UCA players of all time — and not just because of his accomplishments on the field.
From the first interview I ever had with him, the guy who wants to be a TV sportscaster was engaging. He was analytical. He was playful. He was cool.
Win or lose, he was a great interview, often flashing a winning smile in spite of hardship. Coach Clint Conque said that when Smothers first arrived on campus, he nicknamed him “Smiley.”
His friendly nature belied his competitiveness. He was a fierce competitor, particularly at crunch time, generating the personality that led the Bears to incredible, come-from-behind wins last year over Sam Houston State and McNeese State.
If he had a fault, it may have been trying too hard, to carry a team too much on his shoulders. The UCA coaches put a lot on his shoulders this year.
What I also admired about him was, during adversity, he never pointed fingers; he never tried to throw other players under the bus. Any glitch or failure was on him. He never publicly complained.
And when there was success, he credited others. He was the epitomy of a teammate.
He was one of the “good guys,” one of the classiest to ever come through the UCA program. He was admired by both teammates and opponents.
Where do the Bears, 3-3 and 0-1 in conference, go from here?
Uncertain. It’s a challenge for any team to change gears at quarterback in week 8 of the season.
Fortunately from them, they do have capable backups (Ryan Howard and Taylor Reed) who could be efficient game managers at quarterback. Even though both are left-handed; both have different skill sets. Jacoby Walker also could be used in special situations.
The Bear coaching staff, as it should, will try to grab all the positives from the motivational tool shed.
Reality is they have no one who possesses all the leadership skills, inspires the confidence, has the game experience, the athletic ability and intangibles that often translates into magic as Smothers. And those qualities cannot be restored this season. Smothers’ credibility was built over time and performance.
The Bears will move on, possibly with renewed spunk with new faces against a new challenge. For the remaining six conference games, all challenging, they will try to shift gears and hit the accelerator.
But clearly, there is less octane.
(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at 505-1235 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @dmaclcd.com)