FORT COLLINS — Colorado State’s worst fears were realized Monday when it was revealed starting safety Ben Stratton would miss the season with an anterior cruciate ligament tear in his left knee.
“This is the difficult part of this game, when guys have worked so darn hard all summer, all winter, do everything they can to get themselves ready, then they have an injury,” CSU head coach Sonny Lubick said. “I know all the players and all the coaches feel bad for him. Everybody respected him because he was a hard worker.”
Stratton, a three-year starter heading into his senior year, was not at practice Monday. He had a doctor’s appointment and a rehab session planned as he prepares for surgery in the next few weeks.
He will redshirt this season, then come back next year as a fifth-year senior.
“He’s had a positive attitude from the time that he did it,” senior safety Travis Garcia said. “I know he’s going to be a big supporter of this team all the way through, and we need that. He’s still going to be vocal leader for this team.”
Now, the other reality sets in, and that’s what the Rams do now without a player who is their leading returning tackler and a two-time honorable mention selection in the Mountain West Conference.
“That’s a big hit for the team. Everyone has to step up though,” Garcia said. “We can’t sit there and feel sorry for ourselves. I’ve got to step up, Miles has got to step up, we all have to step up and cover for him. I think we have the talent to do that back there.”
In Garcia and Kochevar, the Rams have two experienced seniors who have started at safety before. It’s a position where Colorado State felt it had depth, but with the loss of Stratton and the uncertainty surrounding Lukas Davis — he’s missed time with a sore knee coming off surgery — more pressure is falling on younger players.
Namely true freshman Klint Kubiak and redshirt freshman Mike Pagnotta.
“Those guys have been working hard, and this is their shot,” secondary coach James Ward said. “I think they’re going to make the most of it.
“They have earned the shot. They’ve done a lot in a little time, and they’ve definitely learned. It’s unfortunate that an injury has to make that happen, but those guys are ready and hungry, and the season has to go on.”
Lubick said both Kubiak and Pagnotta graded out well from Saturday’s scrimmage, but they both know more will be expected of them in the coming weeks.
“I guess it’s a sense of urgency to get ready. It’s a lot faster pace, and the sense of urgency is definitely there,” Pagnotta said. “I think you just have to go out there and first off be confident in what you’re doing, and that comes with knowing the defenses and knowing what to do.”
But Stratton won’t just be missed in one spot, Lubick said. He was also the Rams’ starting nickel back in that set up and played on a couple of special teams. Lubick particularly liked having Stratton, Kochevar and Garcia on the field at the same time in the nickel package for the speed and experience they brought to the set.
Last week, defensive coordinator Steve Stanard said there are a couple of different options they’ll look at, including linebacker Jahmal Hall and transfer Joey Rucks in the nickel spot.