Brad McNulty’s roommate was limping back to him.
“Brad, you’re up,” offensive line coach Brad Walker said to the redshirt freshman. “Get out there.”
The last time McNulty had played in a football game, he was inside Cowboy Stadium for Allen High School’s loss to Trinity in the second round of the Texas 5A Division I playoff. Now the stage was in front of 71,000 at Memorial Stadium.
Missouri was in the second quarter of its highly-anticipated, nationally-televised Southeastern Conference opener, which it would eventually lose 41-20.
Elvis Fisher was in his sixth year at the program, in the middle of his sixth quarter after playing a week before against Southeastern Louisiana, a game for which he had waited since being sidelined last summer with the ACL tear that shut down his 2011 season.
“Elvis is our leader,” McNulty said. “I’ve always looked at him for leadership. He’s my roommate. I know if I have any problems with anything I can count on him.”
But Fisher was coming to the sidelines. McNulty was about to join an offensive line in transition, a unit suddenly about to scramble pieces. McNulty would assume the center position, and starter redshirt sophomore Mitch Morse would go to right tackle. Redshirt junior Justin Britt would fill Fisher’s absence on the left side.
“We’ve always been taught to be ready at any time, because you never know when you have to strap your helmet on and get out there,” McNulty said.
The shuffle across the line seemed so rushed, so unexpected. Injuries struck the group during summer camp, knocking out two projected starters and paving the way for true freshman left guard Evan Boehm and former walk-on Max Copeland, the right guard, to be first on the depth chart. Listed as a starter entering the season, senior Jack Meiners strained a knee, and he has been and remains listed as questionable since.
But a plan had previously been crafted, coach Gary Pinkel said.
“These decisions were made a week ago, and we practiced a little bit just in case the worst-case scenario came up, and it happened to come up," he said.
Fisher had gone back to the locker room. His father and stepmother came down from the stands to meet him there.
“I apologized," Fisher said. "I was like, ‘Dad, I’m sorry I had to bust my knee again.'"
Fisher smiled recalling it. He said his dad had knee surgeries before, including a replacement.
“He was like, ‘Shoot, don't worry about it. I’ve been through a bunch of knees,'" he said.
On Monday, Fisher, in a brace on his right knee, said he would not receive surgery on his MCL. He spoke confidently, especially when asked about his future.
“I had hopes of going to the NFL, like, junior year,” he said. “Now I’m just looking forward to getting back out there, maybe getting a shot in the NFL, but with another knee injury, I don't even know if those guys take someone like me. … I know it’s not the only thing in life to look forward to. I got a degree from the University of Missouri. I’m working on my master's, which they’ll help me finish next summer. I’ve got a lot of things going for me. I just want to get back out there and play a few more games of college before I call it quits.”
So Fisher will be back to doing rehab three times a day. The team hasn’t put a label on his return, but he said he’ll perform a role he’s always had.
“Talking to them, helping them out with whatever they need,” he said of his fellow linemen, set to practice with each other in preparation for Arizona State this week. “They can come up to me if they need any kind of help or anything like that.”
Fisher and Pinkel both said they were impressed with McNulty’s performance.
“You talk about a redshirt freshman coming into an environment like that?” Pinkel said. “Maybe it was good he didn’t know he was going to play.”
At one point in the third quarter, someone stepped on the heel of his left Nike.
“I thought, 'Well, we got to go fast here,'” McNulty said. “I don't have time to sit down on the field and put my shoe on.”
There was a 351-pound nose tackle in front of him that needed blocking. He chucked the shoe to the sideline and played on.