Urzua ‘next man up’ for Raiders in absence of Stockstill

Photo by Brent Beerends / MT Athletics Communications

Next man up. It’s a phrase that has so much importance in the game of football.

With the violence of the game, it’s almost a certainty that you are going to have players go down throughout the season. As a backup, you always have to be ready because you never know when it’s going to be your turn.

After the Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders learned that their starting quarterback Brent Stockstill cracked his sternum, they immediately looked to redshirt sophomore John Urzua to be the “next man up.”

Urzua has been in this situation before: Last season, the Suwanee, Georgia native appeared in five games for the Blue Raiders, including three starts, when Stockstill suffered a broken collerbone.

Having that experience under his belt coming into this situation will have Urzua prepared for what he can expect as the man under center.

“The experience I had from last year helps,” Urzua said. “Last year didn’t go the way I wanted it, so this year I’m going to prepare myself to play with confidence to help this team win.”

The former second-team all-state quarterback got to see action in the first game of the season last year against Alabama A&M and gave the Blue Raider faithful reason to be optimistic about their “QB2” when he went 10-17 for 106 yards and one touchdown in just one half against the Bulldogs.

Later in the year when Stockstill went down against UTSA, Urzua again was thrust into action and didn’t see as much success as he did in his first game. He threw three interceptions in the game against the Roadrunner defense and threw another two in his first career start against Marshall one week later.

Going into his second career start, Urzua silenced his critics by having a career day against UNC-Charlotte. Urzua completed a career-high 26 passes and threw for a career-high 250 yards and four touchdowns to get the Blue Raiders their seventh victory of the season.

Against Florida Atlantic, Urzua went down with an upper body injury and wouldn’t see the field at all for the rest of the year, with Stockstill returning to action in the Hawaii bowl.

At the end of spring practice, Urzua earned the team’s Most Improved Quarterback Award for the second season in a row, and spent the off-season and first two weeks of the season trying to get bigger and improve his footwork.

“(This off-season) I tried to put on some weight,” Urzua said. “(I worked on) my footwork and playing with confidence.”

In week three, the Blue Raiders announced that Stockstill would not be playing against the Minnesota Golden Gophers, meaning Urzua would be the guy to lead the offense again for the second stint of his career.

After losing arguably their best reciever in Richie James to a leg injury in the second quarter, Urzua and the rest of the Blue Raider offense couldn’t get anything going throughout the rest of the ballgame, as they failed to score in the second half.

But if history has taught us anything, it’s that Urzua can put the bad games behind him and lead his team to victory.

Last season after being battered by UTSA and Marshall, Urzua stepped and earned a 2-1 record as a starter, guiding the Blue Raiders to an important 8-4 finish to solidify their chances of being invited to a bowl game.

MTSU head coach Rick Stockstill and offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Tony Franklin will begin preparing Urzua to take the reins this weekend in the event Brent Stockstill can’t play.

“(We need John) to be poised more so in the pocket, and to work hard in the pocket,” Stockstill said. “He needs to focus on protecting the football, carrying practice over to the game and doing the little things better … play a little more consistently than he did.”

In the absence of James, the rest of the Blue Raider receiving corps knows that is important for them to step up to assist Urzua as well.

Urzua’s classmate C.J. Windham knows that the chemistry that the recievers have built with Urzua in practice can carry over to the game field.

“John is a great quarterback,” Windham said. “(Offensive coordinator Tony Franklin) doesn’t mind rotating quarterbacks in practice so that they can all get the same amount of reps and experience so that if somebody goes down like (Stockstill), they can use that ‘next man up’ philosophy. I have great chemistry with John, and we get a lot done at practice.”

The receiver group as a whole is ready to do their part to help their young quarterback have a successful season, no matter how long it lasts.

“We’re going to help John by practicing the details and perfecting our craft,” Windham said. “We’re coming out and fine-tuning everything we do, even down to the minor details.”

On an offense that’s been stricken by the injury bug early this season, John Urzua is the man that will encourage them to embody the “next man up” mentality.

“‘The next guy up’ mentality is tough because you never know when it’s going to be your turn,” Urzua said. “It’s about capitalizing on opportunities.  I’ve been presented with a great opportunity, I just need to take advantage and make the most of it.”

Follow MTSU sports reporter Anthony Fiorella on Twitter at @A_Fiorella74 for more coverage.

To contact Sports Editor Rusty Ellis, email sports@mtsusidelines.com.

For more sports stories, follow us on Facebook at MTSU Sidelines and on Twitter and Periscope at @Sidelines_Sport.

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