Last week was a trying one for football coach Bobby Wallace.
The eighth-year coach was concerned with the possible damages Hurricane Katrina may have wrought upon his Alabama beach home. He most likely lost sleep worrying about his fluctuating gameplan for a date with No. 20 Arizona State, too.
The Owls, who suffered a 63-16 season-opening loss to the Sun Devils last Thursday, were without the help of five starters and two key reserves. The seven Owls, all upperclassmen and scholarship athletes, were declared ineligible by the university early last week for failing to meet NCAA academic standards.
First-stringers lost for the season are senior running back Tim Brown, senior wide receiver Mike Holley, senior strong safety Bobby Fulmore, junior offensive guard Sam McNaulty and junior cornerback David Reese. Junior David Fatherly and senior JC Braker, backup defensive ends, are also ineligible.
Wallace addressed the team’s ineligibilities before a practice last week at the team’s football facility. The Owls were informed of the ineligibilities at a team meeting last week, Wallace said. Nothing could have prepared him for the news he received concerning his players, he said.
“All our kids attend summer school. It’s very difficult at this time to find this information out,” said Wallace, who later said he would not comment on specifics once he learned them. “They’re not all the exact same thing. There are different circumstances for each and every one of them. We’ll just have to move forward.”
Though Wallace declined comment on individual player situations, the coach said at the team’s weekly media luncheon last Tuesday that senior defensive back Justin Johnson was currently ineligible, but the team was fighting to get him reinstated.
This is not Holley’s first eligibility setback. He missed all of last season under eligibility guidelines, and was to play his first season at wide receiver after making the switch from cornerback two seasons ago. Junior Bruce Gordon, who played at Purdue before arriving at Temple, will be Holley’s replacement.
Brown, who started 10 games in 2004, was the team’s third-leading rusher with 455 yards and two touchdowns. Brown was expected to get more touches this season with the departure of quarterback Walter Washington, who led the team in rushing last year. Senior Umar Ferguson rushed for 42 yards and caught an 11-yard touchdown pass Thursday in Brown’s absence.
Braker and Fatherly were expected to provide depth at the defensive line, one of the team’s strong points. Fulmore and Reese were to anchor the team’s inexperienced secondary. Senior strong safety Andrew Smith and junior cornerback Chris Page will serve in their positions. McNaulty has also been replaced by senior Stan Primus.
Freshmen such as Keith Holt, who started at Owl safety against Arizona State, will be looked upon for some much-needed depth at the eligibility-afflicted positions, Wallace said.
“In some situations, we’re going to be leaning heavily on some freshmen [for depth], and that’s not a very good situation to be in,” Wallace said.
Wallace owns a beach house in Gulf Shores, Ala., an area that received extensive coverage on television news channels in the hours leading up to Katrina’s arrival.
While the coach was strongly concerned with his team’s betterment, he expressed a deeper concern for the safety of his property and his parents, who were staying at the house last week before evacuating for safer ground in Mississippi.
“The last thing I did in July before I left was board [the windows] up,” Wallace said. “I’ve just been watching the [news] like everyone else.”
Christopher A. Vito can be reached at email@example.com. Information from the Philadelphia Inquirer was used in this report.