With Central Michigan hobbling to a 1-4 start, no one is more frustrated standing on the sidelines than running back Zurlon Tipton.
“Football is my life, it’s definitely just hard to stand there watching a team knowing you can’t help,” he said.
Tipton spoke to Central Michigan Life by phone on Thursday, his first interview since leaving the season opener at Michigan with a season-ending ankle injury. He touched on everything from the running backs trying to fill his shoes to CMU’s slow start and what it needs to do to get back on track.
“I remember me almost scoring, getting my first touchdown of the season,” Tipton said of the Michigan game. “I get tackled and next thing I know my ankle is not responding right.
“Most people knew something was wrong. We’re on the goal line and I’m asking to come out.”
Since his surgery almost one month ago, Tipton is up walking around, trying to recover. He’s unsure of what his future in football looks like. Head coach Dan Enos has said a sixth year is possible, granted after applying for an NCAA medical hardship waiver.
But right now, he’s just looking forward to graduating in December.
“I can’t make any decisions until I know where I’m at and where I’ll be,” Tipton said. “Of course, we’ve talked about coming up with a plan for what’s next. At this point right now, I’m just focused on getting better and graduating. I feel like getting a degree is just taking the stress off of me. When we get to that part, we’ll worry about it.”
He’s in team meetings regularly, helping the running backs try and find some consistency. But he concedes that it remains an issue, with sophomore Saylor Lavallii showing up big in some games and going quiet in others. Likewise, backups Anthony Garland and freshman Maurice Shoemaker-Gilmore have had spurts, but aren’t ready for a full load of carries just yet.
Tipton’s ready for someone to step up and take charge.
“We see that nobody is saying ‘I’m the guy, this is what I’m going to do.’ It’s just going to take time, guys in there are young,” he said. “Unfortunately, they have to grow up real fast. I feel comfortable with every one of them running the ball, but it’s going to take some time for those guys to realize they’ve got to step up.”
Would things have gone differently in CMU’s first five games of the season with a healthy Zurlon Tipton?
Of course, he’s not known to be humble. His stats from last season, nearly 1,500 yards rushing and 20 touchdowns, don’t lie either.
“I don’t think the team is based off one guy, but I could have definitely got in there and helped out,” Tipton said. “I’m not trying to brag or boast or anything like that, but I definitely feel like I could have made an impact with the way the team’s going so far.”
As far as how things have gone so far, he realizes injuries have taken a toll. Losing your starting quarterback, starting running back, starting left guard, a receiver and several players on defense can hurt production, he says.
But that’s where depth comes in. His response to the injury excuse?
“Next man in,” he said. “In the beginning I felt like we had some good pieces. Obviously when ever a starter gets hurt, you’re going to take a fall in production. People got to step up.
“We’ve got a lot of injuries, but I felt like with the talent we have on this team, it shouldn’t be a problem. There shouldn’t be a drop off at all. But that’s part of growing up and realizing what we’ve got to do.”
Contact Aaron McMann: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @AaronMcMann.