Few TCU players love being on the field more than defensive end Ross Forrest. And no Horned Frog has overcome more obstacles in the last couple of years to see that joy realized.
Forrest, a reserve defensive end, was sidelined in 2009 after an elbow injury in the opener at Virginia. Last year he missed time because of a shoulder injury. Now, in his junior year, the Odessa Permian graduate has come to exemplify coach Gary Patterson's call for depth. He has four tackles through two games, including one for a loss at Air Force.
"To be able to go out there and contribute is amazing," said Forrest, who had five career tackles before this season. "When you're hurt, it's such a humbling experience. Now, to be able get a shot at playing again is so much fun and you don't take it for granted. It's something you appreciate; being out there with all my teammates is the best feeling in the world."
Patterson restated his mantra during Tuesday's news conference about "older players need to show younger players how to practice."
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"That's what has made us special, besides having good players," he said.
That rings more true with former starters Ed Wesley and Tanner Brock being taken off the depth chart this week because of injuries. It seems unlikely they'll play when the No. 23 Frogs (1-1) meet Louisiana-Monroe (1-1) at 1 p.m. Saturday at Amon G. Carter Stadium.
"I'm always trying to teach and learn and contribute as much as I can," said Forrest, who played in 11 games as a freshman walk-on in 2008. "If I can help another guy learn, or if he can teach me, I'm always open."
Because of graduation and injuries, TCU has had to rely on its depth more than in recent years. Players such as redshirt freshman Antonio Graves and Travaras Battle have made an impact on special teams and young offensive linemen such as Michael Thompson and Eric Tausch had to spell starters who were under the weather at Air Force.
"When you have a younger team, every seven days seems like two months," Patterson said. "One day is a good practice, one day is a bad practice. And you don't really know what you're going to get on Saturday because they're not veteran enough where you say, 'Aw, they'll do it then.' Like you, I'll show up on Saturday and see what team shows up."
Patterson probably has a better grasp of his team's psyche than he's admitting, but the younger players, including a group of freshman receivers, have already made an impact. David Porter has three receptions and two touchdowns and Brandon Carter and Cam White have shown glimpses of the future.
"The first-team guys are so supportive of us when we get on the field, and we're so supportive of them," Forrest said. "It's so family oriented, and so much chemistry that it's easy for us to go out there and play. They don't see us as a drop-off."
To the contrary. Walk-on Jon Koontz made a huge stop on fourth down against Air Force that changed the momentum. Patterson said Koontz was in at left end instead of starter Stansly Maponga for a reason. Same goes for Forrest when he's in for starter Braylon Broughton at the right end.
"Braylon is such a leader for us and he works so hard, and is somebody I can look up to," Forrest said. "I encourage him and he encourages me. And it's the same on the other side with Stansly and Koontz. Those guys really push each other."
It's the cycle of turnover Patterson has preached around TCU: You're only as good as your reserves.
Anyone expecting a drastic drop-off this season with TCU missing Andy Dalton, Jeremy Kerley and Tejay Johnson hasn't been paying attention.
"I think it would be natural for people to think that, but what we preach around here now is we're not good teams, we're a good program," fullback Luke Shivers said. "And good programs find people to replace people. It doesn't matter if it's Andy Dalton or Jake Kirkpatrick, the next person has to step up and fill the role."
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