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Chuck Priore's squad fighting injury bug

Stony Brook Seawolves running back James Kenner (no.

Stony Brook Seawolves running back James Kenner (no. 28) rushes against New Hampshire during the second half. (Oct. 26, 2013) (Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan)

Under Chuck Priore, Stony Brook’s football team has earned a reputation for physical play, and the Seawolves have hit as hard as ever in their first season in the Colonial Athletic Association. But this year, they also have absorbed more than their share of hits that have sidelined key players.

If Priore had a dollar for every time he’s uttered the phrase “next man up” this season, he would be wealthy, indeed. That certainly holds true this week as the Seawolves (3-5, 1-4 CAA) face Richmond (3-6, 1-4) with a lineup that includes at least four, and possibly five, new starters.

“We’ve got a ton of injuries,” Priore said. “Reload and step up. That’s what we’ve done every week, and that’s what we’ll do this week.”

The defense was hit hardest in a 19-14 loss last Saturday at Maine. Cornerback Ivan May (hip flexor), rover Max Martinez (groin) and backup safety Naim Cheeseboro (shoulder) all are out, and Martinez also will miss next week’s game at James Madison and hopes to return for the season finale against Albany. On offense, running back Tyler Fredericks (concussion) and wide receiver Malcolm Eugene (groin) are out, and the other starting wide receiver, Adrian Coxson (ankle), is questionable.

The injuries to the back end of the defense come at a particularly tough time when the Seawolves are facing Spiders quarterback Michael Strauss, who ranks as the leading passer in the CAA, completing 63.9 percent of his passes for an average of 296.9 yards per game and 15 touchdowns.

“He’s the best thrower we’ll play against all year,” Priore said. “It isn’t even close. He can throw the ball all over the field. He’s good enough to escape, but he’s not a runner. They’re going to spread the field, and that’s what they try to do to move the football.

“We’ve got some injuries, so, I’m a little concerned about this week defensively, but if we play our game, we’ll be fine. Last week, we played the same five people [in the secondary] every play of the game. We just don’t have any subs this week. They’re all hurt. Nobody’s allowed to get a rest.”

On offense, Fredericks was the starting running back at Maine, but now he’s on the sideline for the time being with Marcus Coker (abdomen) who was lost for the season after two games, and Jameel Poteat (ankle), who will miss his third straight game. Technically, starter James Kenner is the fourth-string running back, but he has topped the 100-yard rushing mark two games in a row and leads the team in rushing with 444 yards and a 4.4 average carry. Backing him up are sophomores Jamie Williams and Kedar Hunter.

Since the Seawolves previously lost No. 3 wide receiver Devante Wheeler for the season, they could be down to fourth and fifth receivers, Jahrie Level and Louis Murray, who have seven catches between them. So expect the Seawolves to rely on a ball-control running game since it also has the benefit of keeping the Spiders’ offense off the field if it’s working well.

Although Richmond’s record is unimpressive, five of the Spiders’ losses have come by seven points or less, and their defense ranks third in the nation with 15 interceptions. They were conference co-champions last season, and second-year coach Danny Rocco is quite familiar with Stony Brook since he previously coached Liberty, the Seawolves’ chief rival when they were in the Big South conference.

“He’s come here before, so, he can use that to his advantage, and we’ve played him and have an idea what he does style-wise,” Priore said of his old adversary. “At the end of the day, it’s about the players on the field.”

Indeed it is, and with so many of its best players out with injuries, Stony Brook might be hard-pressed to come away with a victory.