Injuries are part of the game of football, and the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff Golden Lions are dealing with their fair share of them at this point in the season.
UAPB Head Coach Cedric Thomas is highly aware of the production they're missing due to a rash of injuries, but he's also not using it as an excuse.
It's just a reality they have to deal with.
"It's just a part of it," Thomas said. "We just have to grow the younger guys up. One thing about putting them out there now is they'll be ready in the future. They're the foundation. We're not making any excuses, and it's next man up. I believe in the coaches, and we just want to continue to get better."
In what is Thomas' first year as head coach, depth from an experience standpoint was a problem from the start as he's building a new way of doing things within the program.
After the first two weeks of the season, junior college transfers quarterback Shannon Patrick and wide-out Josh Wilkes led the FCS and were top five in the country in multiple statistical categories. Five games into the season both Patrick and Wilkes are sidelined with injuries that they don't really know when they'll be able to return from.
Patrick has a broken finger; Wilkes has a sprained knee.
"Shannon hit his finger on a helmet against Cumberland," Thomas said. "Josh went down against South Dakota State."
Prior to the season, junior running back KeShawn Williams, who will red-shirt and miss the entirety of the season, was named first-team All-SWAC at running back and as a kick returner. Another threat that the Golden Lions have is Virginia Tech transfer Henri Murphy, who was expected to play this year. However, Thomas said that things just didn't pan out, and it's known that he's recovering from an ailing ankle injury.
On defense, it's the same song.
Multiple Golden Lions are dealing with injuries that haven't allowed them to touch the field or have made them limited in what they can do. Blake Connor, Rico Meriweather, Ronald Rocket, Isaiah Johnson, Bradley Dickson and Jaylon Milller were the ones Thomas could name off the top of his head. Four of those players are defensive backs, and two are defensive lineman.
Last week against Florida International University, Golden Lions freshman linebacker Tychristopher Harris had six tackles to lead the team. Thomas points to that as a prime example of them growing the younger guys up as they fill voids.
"We still have some guys that we really haven't gotten back at 100 percent," Thomas said. "It's allowed younger guys to step in. Ty Harris led the team in tackles last week. It's time for the babies to step up and be big boys. It's week five, everybody is banged up and hurt."
On offense, the Golden Lions will be led by freshman quarterback Skyelr Perry in what will be his third consecutive start. Perry is the future, according to Thomas, and every day he can see him progressing.
"Skyler Perry will be the guy," Thomas said. "He's really taking command of the offense and controlling all 11 guys out there. We just have to keep putting him in the best positions to be successful. He's done that for the most part as a true freshman."
In the absence of All-SWAC running back KeShawn Williams, junior college transfer Taeyler Porter has been a pleasant surprise for the Golden Lions' offense. Last week against FIU, Porter continued his streak of productive games by gaining 137 rushing yards on 26 attempts.
With Wilkes still out, Tyrin Ralph, Kolby McNeal and DeJuan Miller have held their own.
"Tyrin Ralph has done a real good job," Thomas said. "Kolby McNeal and D. Miler have grown up in the system. Taeylor is still running hard. He had 100 yards against a good FIU defense. Our offensive line is getting to their blocking points. Guys have stepped up."
Thomas and his defensive staff have been working hard making adjustments. This Saturday against Jackson State University, Thomas expects the defense to put on a show.
"We've moved some guys around and put some guys in different places," Thomas said. "Lately, we've been having some of our better days. I think we're primed for a coming out party this week. I've been putting it on them to make plays. We have to be disciplined and keep things in front of us. It's key that we not have a slow start coming out on Saturday."
Kickoff is at 2:30 p.m. at Simmons Bank Field.