Tony Dill’s transformation--the latest one--is all but complete.
It took three weeks.
Dill, yesterday’s quarterback of the future, is Saturday’s starting wide receiver.
He inherited the starter’s role after senior John Gibbs suffered a season-ending knee injury Saturday in Cal State Fullerton’s 35-16 loss to Wyoming.
Dill, who guided Fullerton to four consecutive victories as a freshman quarterback in 1985, was converted into a receiver after the second game this season when it became clear that Dan Speltz had the quarterback’s job nailed down.
Three games later, the move looks brilliant for both Dill and the Titans, who would have been in trouble without a backup of Dill’s ability to take over for Gibbs.
“I’m just happy to be playing,” Dill said.
Gibbs, who caught 13 passes for 168 yards in 5 games, dislocated his knee when he was tackled on a punt return Saturday, sustaining torn ligaments. He will undergo surgery Wednesday, Fullerton Coach Gene Murphy said.
Gibbs built a reputation for making spectacular catches at Fullerton. He sometimes missed the easy ones, but he pulled down others that seemed impossible.
He was forced into the role of punt returner two weeks ago because of injuries to other players, and in two games performed well enough to rank among the national leaders.
Gibbs’ 17-yard average on 8 returns ranks fifth in the nation. UCLA’s Darryl Henley is first with a 29-yard average.
Gibbs will try to rehabilitate his knee in hopes of having a shot at professional football, Murphy said.
For Dill, a junior, this is the latest positive development in an erratic and at times frustrating career.
After his great success as a freshman, Dill was knocked out for the season by a knee injury early in his sophomore year. Ronnie Barber took over the position, and then beat Dill out for the job the next season. Dill was in another battle last spring, but lost out to Speltz.
“I’ll tell you one thing, we had him beaten out, but Tony Dill never thought he was beaten out,” Murphy said. “That’s why he’s such a good player. He’s never content to be second.”
The Titans’ running back woes appear to be diminishing. Michael Pringle, who began the season as the backup tailback, is expected to play this week, Murphy said.
Pringle became the starter after Michael Moore was lost indefinitely with a knee injury. But then Pringle went down with an ankle injury and fourth-stringer Earl Williams dislocated his shoulder, leaving Fullerton with one healthy tailback, Palente Henry.
Tim Byrnes, a fullback, started at tailback Saturday, catching 4 passes for 58 yards and rushing for another 50.
But Pringle, Fullerton’s leading rusher with 203 yards in 4 games, will be back for Saturday’s home game against Fresno State, a game Murphy calls “the biggest we’ll play all year.”
One-Liner Dept.: Murphy, complaining about the officiating in Fullerton’s loss to Wyoming, put a twist on the typical coaches’ lament that the officials were a “split crew"--half from one conference, half from another.
“It was a split crew,” Murphy said. “Half was from Cheyenne and the other half from Laramie.”
After the game Saturday, Murphy said that his players may have tired because of the altitude at War Memorial Stadium, where this sign greets the visiting team: “Welcome to 7,220 feet.”
What did the Fullerton players know about altitude?
Murphy: “We told them it was the opposite of smog.”
Nobody was denying that Fullerton looked foolish at best on several occasions Saturday when the Titans lined up with only 10 defenders on the field.
“That was laziness, and a lack of concentration on the sideline,” Murphy said.
All but one of the plays were by special teams. On the other, a goal-line play on which Wyoming scored its first touchdown, the Titans had a decent--if somewhat comical--excuse.
Russ Oleyer, a backup linebacker who is a regular on goal-line defense, had sustained a thigh injury that needed to be taped, defensive coordinator Kirk Harmon said.
Not wanting to have that done in public, Oleyer went into the stadium tunnel--and missed the call for the goal-line team.