Tony Ding / FR143848 AP
Tony Ding / FR143848 AP
One is an outside linebacker, the other a kicker, which means they don’t have a lot in common on the football field.
As roommates, however, Colorado’s Derek McCartney and Diego Gonzalez will now share the same struggle of navigating the stairs at home on crutches.
“We have a couple (stairs),” Gonzalez joked Monday. “It’s interesting.”
Gonzalez and McCartney were in good spirits Monday despite the realization that their seasons have come to a close. McCartney, a junior linebacker, tore the ACL in his right knee during Saturday’s 45-28 loss at Michigan, while Gonzalez, a senior kicker, tore his left Achilles’ tendon.
“It’s really disappointing,” said Buffs head coach Mike MacIntyre, whose team will open Pac-12 play on Saturday at Oregon. “The next guy has to step up and go. Derek is our biggest, strongest outside linebacker and a good player for us, a great leader. Diego, you’ve all seen what he’s been doing.”
McCartney had a fumble recovery for touchdown in Saturday’s loss and has been one of the Buffs’ best pass rushers the past three seasons. He has started 24 games since the start of 2014, registering 9.5 sacks.
McCartney said he was injured during the second quarter at Michigan.
“I just kind of landed funny and my knee buckled on me,” he said. “I didn’t go back in because it didn’t feel right.”
In the heat of the game, he said he didn’t dwell on the injury, but “looking at it now, it’s tough, but it’s part of the game.”
Gonzalez has been CU’s starting place-kicker the past two seasons and was off to a great start this season. Although he missed his only field goal attempt against the Wolverines, he was 3-for-4 on the season and has made all 49 of his extra-point attempts in his career.
Gonzalez has been handling kickoff duties this year, as well, registering 16 touchbacks on 19 kickoffs. Ironically, he was injured on one of the three that wasn’t a touchback. The kick actually went into the end zone, but Michigan’s Jabrill Peppers returned the ball 55 yards. While chasing him down, Gonzalez’s Achilles ruptured.
“It didn’t hurt, which was weird,” said Gonzalez, who said he will have surgery on Tuesday.
The Buffs are hurting, however, as they try to replace two key members of their team.
Luckily for CU, sophomore outside linebacker NJ Falo returns this week after serving a three-game suspension for an off-the-field incident in the spring. He got a lot of first-team reps in the spring while McCartney nursed injuries, and hopes to step into that starting role again.
“I don’t feel too much pressure because I’ve been playing under Derek’s wing since I got here,” said Falo, who had 17 tackles in 116 snaps last season, with several of those coming as an inside linebacker. “It’s some big shoes to fill, for sure, but I know that I have the ability to do it. I can trust my abilities and know that by studying and learning with him that I can do everything he does, or even better. I feel like I can go out there and just dominate at his position and do it for the both of us.”
Falo sat out of summer workouts because of his suspension, but he has been practicing since the start of August camp, playing inside and outside linebacker with the scout team.
Junior Christian Shaver and sophomore Terran Hasselbach will also be in the mix to start for McCartney. Shaver started against Idaho State on Sept. 10, when McCartney sat out with ankle injury, and Hasselbach has played a backup role this season.
As for kicking duties, MacIntyre said, “We’ll have a kicking contest all week to see who is going to kick field goals, extra points, kickoff and all of that type of stuff. We’ll decide all of that on Friday.”
Junior Chris Graham and true freshman walk-on Davis Price will compete for those roles.
Graham was the Buffs’ kickoff specialist in 2015. He missed the only field goal attempt of his career, when he hit the upright with a 40-yarder against Idaho State. Price, from Evergreen High School, reportedly had a strong showing in fall camp.
Graham said being in a competition for the job won’t be much different from usual practice.
“We’ve always treated every kick like a competition,” he said. “It’s so black and white: you either make it or miss it; either you hit it out of the end zone or you don’t, so it’s easy to tell who is winning in that aspect.”
McCartney and Gonzalez both said the team has rallied behind them, and both expressed their confidence that the Buffs will deal with the adversity of their first loss, and the disappointing news of the injuries.
“It’s not easy, but we’re going to bounce back and be all right,” McCartney said.
Both players said they will look into the possibility of earning medical redshirts to regain a year of eligibility.
Brian Howell: firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter: @BrianHowell33.