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Merced College football: Crawford hopes time is on his side

Quarterback Brendan Crawford and tight end Kyle McMillin took to the Merced College practice field on Thursday afternoon to get in a few extra reps during an off day for the Blue Devils.

Crawford is happy to get any work in after suffering what he thought to be a season-ending knee injury in Week 4 against Reedley.

"I was pretty scared," Crawford admitted. "Originally they told me it was a torn MCL. It turned out it was just a sprain. I've been cleared to do rehab drills on the sidelines, but coach (Mark) Kaanapu and I are hoping I'll be ready for Chabot."

After going 2-3 in its nonconference schedule, MC is recuperating with a bye this week. The Blue Devils open Golden Gate Conference play at home against Chabot on Oct. 17.

Whether Crawford will be ready to play by then remains to be seen.

The 6-foot-5 gunslinger from Winton was throwing accurately and with pace on Thursday, but did occasionally come up gimpy after pushing off of his injured right knee.

"It's a tough situation," Crawford said. "It's been tough watching the team struggle while I haven't been able to play. What happened with the knee is I stretched out the ligament completely, so I have to be careful because it could still tear.

"I'm trying to push it so I can help the team, but not over do it."

MC's passing attack has certainly struggled since Crawford got injured. Juan Diaz and Justin Fausone have combined to go 24 for 54 for 172 yards, a touchdown and five interceptions.

"You can see the difference just having him out at practice," McMillin said. "The other quarterbacks have the ability. Coach wouldn't put them on the field if they couldn't help us win.

"But (Crawford) has that experience. He's already been there and showed what he can do."

Even if Crawford can go, he won't be 100 percent.

The freshman quarterback is still adjusting to his knee brace and his mobility will be extremely hindered.

"That's definitely another concern," Crawford said. "Let's just say that I'll be sliding a lot.

"Right now I'm probably at 60 to 65 percent. For me to play, I need to be closer to 75."

One thing that could ease everyone's burden, regardless of who is under center, would be MC's full complement of running backs.

The Blue Devils haven't had Stephon Mathis, Emmanuel Brooks and Joe Machado all play since Week 2. With the trio intact, MC averaged 222 yards per game.

Brooks sat out Week 3 and Mathis has missed the last two weeks.

The return of Mathis could mean big things against a Chabot team that is surrendering 150 rushing yards per game.

"In my 15 years of coaching, this definitely has to be one of the best bye weeks I've had," Kaanapu said. "We went shorter in practice, but upped the intensity.

"It was really nice to see."