Brian McCarty would love to put Towson State's football team on his back. But his bruised and surgically scarred shoulders won't let him.
"They are not 100 percent. I don't know if they ever will be," McCarty said. "I know I'm going to play most of the season in pain, and I don't know if, at the end of the season, I'm going to have to have something else done to them."
In the meantime, don't suggest that the 5-foot-11, 200-pound tailback avoid further injury by sitting down. With the Tigers (3-0) preparing to face Howard on Saturday, with a chance for a trip to the Division I-AA playoffs in his mind and with McCarty the focal point of Towson State's offensive backfield for the first time since 1991, he is not about to let a couple of bum body parts force him to the sidelines.
"He is going to have a tough time getting up in the morning when he's 35 or 40 years old with those shoulders," Towson State coach Gordy Combs said. "But he never complains. He plays hurt. He hates to miss practice. He doesn't let the sharks know that he's wounded."
Howard will be a pivotal game for Towson State, and especially for McCarty. Last year, the Bison ruined the Tigers' 3-0 start by spotting them a 21-0 lead, then coming back to win a 44-41 thriller on the game's final play. The Bison went on to an undefeated season and a I-AA playoff berth, while Towson State finished 8-2 and barely missed a postseason appearance.
The Bison also ruined McCarty's most promising season. He was leading the team with 390 yards while sharing backfield duty with All-American Tony Vinson. On his first carry against Howard, McCarty plunged into the line for a short gain. Seconds later, he ran off the field grimacing, his left arm dangling awkwardly. He'd suffered a severely separated shoulder.
Just like that, his season was over. A week later, he hareconstructive shoulder surgery. Over the next two months, he watched Vinson take over the offense, racking up a Division I-AA-record 2,016 rushing yards in 10 games.
"It drove me crazy. I'm watching us lose the game, and therwas nothing I could do about it," McCarty said. "I was in a bad mood for the rest of the season. That game destroyed our season and my season. I didn't want to wait until my senior year for people to start noticing that I could play."
McCarty's senior year is off to a productive start. He leads the Tigers in touchdowns (six) and rushing yards (221), and has caught 10 passes for 158 yards.
Then again, production is nothing new for McCarty. He began the season sixth on the school's all-time rushing list with 1,589 yards. Saturday, he figures to move into second place, albeit way behind Vinson (3,058).
Unfortunately, injuries also are nothing new to McCarty. After a sterling senior year at Pennsylvania's Wilson Lawn High School in which his 2,300 all-purpose yards helped the school play in its first state title game, McCarty was signed by the Tigers, then redshirted. The next spring, McCarty, who never had suffered a serious football injury, dislocated his left shoulder in practice.
He underwent his first surgery, then returned in sharp form for his first season. He wound up second on the team with 496 rushing yards and a 5.6-yard average. At that point, McCarty figured he was poised to become the foundation of the Towson State offense. However, Vinson had transferred in from Purdue, and after sitting out the 1991 season, he moved into the Tigers' backfield and began setting records.
"You knew Brian was dying inside, because he's such a competitor," Combs said. "To be starting when he was a redshirt freshman, then to take a back seat to Tony for two years without complaining, that says a lot about his character and the way he was raised."
As a sophomore, McCarty shared time with Vinson, who was on a 1,500-yard pace before a knee injury sidelined him for the last four games. McCarty picked up the pieces. He rushed for a career-high 245 yards to lead the Tigers to a late-season, 33-32 victory over Northeastern. Last year, Vinson and McCarty were each on 1,000-yard paces before McCarty's second left shoulder separation got in the way.
An injury slowed McCarty still one more time. He was held out of contact drills during last spring's practice sessions. But in a preseason scrimmage six weeks ago, he sprained his right shoulder badly.
McCarty wears a protective brace on the right shoulder to limit movement of his arm. The brace restricts his pass-catching and blocking abilities, and has forced him to alter his running style. Accustomed to bowling over people, McCarty is gradually learning to heed Combs' advice to run out of bounds more and fake out defenders in the open field.
"It's frustrating when you know you're capable of playing a lot better, but you can only go 90 percent," McCarty said. "It's not like me to get into the secondary and have one guy bring me down. But I can't push off like I used to.
"Before the season, my goal was Tony's record. Now, this shoulder is bothering me and it's three games into the season and I've yet to have 100 yards rushing [in a game]. The record was a concern before, but now it's one of the last things on my mind. I just want to win, and I want to help this team get to the playoffs. That's all I care about."