ST. CHARLES – All around Ramon Lopez, injury woes have bedeviled his St. Charles East positional cohorts.
Fortunately for the Saints football team, Lopez is still churning, providing East a lifeline on both sides of the ball entering tonight’s Upstate Eight Conference River showdown at Batavia.
Lopez is being asked to do much more than was originally in the plans this season, but the 5-foot-9, 170-pound junior has gladly accepted the heftier workload.
“He’s just a tough, hard-nosed kid,” Saints coach Mike Fields said. “I wish we had more of those. We need some more tough, hard-nosed kids around here, but we’ll take the ones that we have, and Ramon would definitely be one of those.”
Lopez expected to be a complement to returning starting running back Erik Anderson this season but Anderson has dealt with a shoulder injury for much of the season, elevating Lopez to the Saints’ featured back in recent weeks.
The results have been decent, although Fields is looking for more out of East’s running game, including the line play.
“They’ve given us everything that they have,” Fields said of the line. “We look for continued improvement out of them this week and next week, and hopefully after that [in the playoffs].”
Offensively, the Saints have seen more success through the air than on the ground. Lopez leads East with 336 rushing yards on 87 carries, and has five rushing touchdowns and a receiving TD.
Anderson – who plans to undergo arthroscopic shoulder surgery after the season – has been relegated to limited carries and is more heavily involved in the offense at receiver and H-back. This is the third straight injury-marred season on varsity for Anderson, who battled a wrist injury as a sophomore and shoulder woes last season.
“There’s definitely frustration there but I talk to coach Fields every day, we talk about what I’m going to be doing [each week], trying to make sure I’m still helping out,” Anderson said. “It’s still exciting to do other positions, and still play football at least. I’m just happy I get to play, I guess.”
Injuries around him have affected Lopez just as much defensively. Lopez started the season expecting to chip in among a deep secondary but a rash of injuries at linebacker have bumped Lopez into the front seven as an outside ’backer.
Jon Finn, back from his own injury travails (broken nose), has taken over at middle linebacker after injuries to Parker Vidmich, Pat Frio and Michael Candre thinned the Saints’ options.
“The original plan was DB but I’ve been moving around at some linebacker, so it’s been a lot of fun, just trying to help out anywhere I can on defense with all of our linebackers down,” Lopez said.
A standout wrestler for the Saints last winter at 160 pounds, Lopez said his training in that notoriously grueling sport has prepared him for his added responsibilities this season.
“It’s definitely the biggest difference in the world,” Lopez said. “I come out here and first day of the summer, you definitely can tell the difference between wrestling and football, and how much harder it is in wrestling, so it’s definitely prepared me a lot as far as conditioning goes, with offense and defense and everything.”
If Batavia wins tonight, the Bulldogs (6-1, 4-0 UEC River) are practically assured of a three-peat as outright conference champions. An upset by the Saints (5-2, 3-1 UEC River) would put a three-way conference tie between East, Batavia and Geneva in play.
“We just need to be smart. We just need to be intense,” Lopez said. “We’ve been coming out flat, and it’s showed in a couple games we haven’t really played up to our potential. I really think we can give them a run. I really think we can beat them, we just have to come out intense.”