Replacing four starters from one of the best offensive lines in the country was hard enough, but an injury to senior tackle Mason Hathaway has caused even more changes across Colorado State’s front line.
Earlier this week head coach Jim McElwain announced that the 6’5”, 295 pound lineman’s knee injury was going to be season-ending, confirming the fears of team officials. But despite the injury, he made clear that the senior from Southlake, Texas would still be a part of the team.
“There’s no doubt about it,” McElwain said. “That’s something we’ve talked about and he really wants to be a part of this because he’s one of those guys that truly understands this is a family — and he’s a big part of it, so anything he can do to help.”
Set to replace Hathaway is junior offensive lineman Sam Carlson, who played in games against Wyoming and Nevada last year as a backup lineman. While Carlson has played primarily on the second team, he’s been able to interchange with the first team quite a bit in practice.
“The whole ‘first team, second team’ doesn’t really mean much in practice,” Carlson said. “We all had a chance to work together and that really helps with our communication and knowing how much guys can help you with certain blocks and techniques.”
Carlson, as well as the rest of the offensive lineman, has constantly maintained the mentality of being ready to play if someone gets injured, such as in the case of Mason Hathaway.
“We’re always working as if someone will go down. Somebody’s got to go be able to step up and play that spot,” Carlson said. “I had been rotating in with him (Hathaway) at that spot. When he went down it was like ‘All right, I’m kinda gonna be there for now and I just got to go out there and play.”
But even though Carlson feels confident and prepared to step into the starting role on the offensive line, even he will admit that there are some extra nerves to having his first start be in what some might consider the biggest and most important game of the season — the Rocky Mountain Showdown.
“Being from Colorado, you know, it’s the game,” Carlson said. “It’s the biggest one of the year.”
However, Carlson isn’t the only offensive lineman who has had to fill in for a key player. With the departure of former center Weston Richburg to the NFL, junior offensive lineman Jake Bennett has been given the difficult task of replacing him.
“Obviously, Weston was a guy who left a mark. He’s probably the best to roll through here in a long time, if not ever,” Bennett said. “I’m just going to do the best I can and help out the team anyway I can.”
According to Carlson, Bennett has filled in admirably at center, given he did not have a choice in following in the footsteps of a CSU great.
“He either had to step or they find somebody else to do the job, but he’s done a great job,” Carlson said. “Also, Weston really did a great job showing him the ropes, and so this past spring when Weston was around for working out and stuff like that he really helped Jake out with how we’re going to count and how to set up the defense. He really helped us a lot with kind of helping Jake step up.”
Similarly, Bennett has nothing but complimentary things to say about Sam Carlson’s efforts at replacing Mason Hathaway.
“With Mason down, Carlson is stepping up really nicely,” Bennett said. “Unbelievable. I mean, Sam bounced around for the last few years. He’s a jack-of-all-trades, and he’s starting to look really good.”
Collegian Sports Reporter Steven Jacobs can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @steven_jacobs_.