It's not often that a Citadel football player I've never heard of starts a game for the Bulldogs.
But that's what happened on Saturday when the Bulldogs' offense lined up against Chattanooga at Johnson Hagood Stadium.
Starting at fullback for The Citadel was a freshman named Nathan Storch, a 6-0, 230-pounder from Dorman High School in Spartanburg.
As a walk-on, Storch had never been announced as part of a Citadel recruiting class. Nor had he carried the ball in any of the Bulldogs' four games last fall.
But in a 25-24 overtime loss to Chattanooga on March 6, Storch carried the ball straight up the gut 19 times for 50 hard-earned yards. He started in place of junior Clay Harris, out with injury. And for various other reasons, (COVID-19, suspensions), Storch was the next man up and will start March 13 at Western Carolina.
"He played all 70-something snaps in his first game, and he didn't go the wrong way once or turn the ball over," coach Brent Thompson said. "There are some things he needs to clean up, but I thought he did a great job blocking.
"He likes to play football and it shows. He played with intensity and passion."
Storch's story exemplifies the challenge of spring football this year, at The Citadel and across the Southern Conference. Having enough players to safely play a game is going to be an issue.
Thompson said Monday that only 30 Bulldogs saw the field on Saturday against Chattanooga. Subtract a kicker, punter, holder and long snapper, and that leaves 26 position players — 22 starters and four reserves.
"Of those 30 guys out there, I can't complain about the way they played," Thompson said. "They played with tremendous heart and effort, and they played a very good, very athletic team in Chattanooga. We took them all the way down to the wire."
Participation charts are not always accurate, but Saturday's showed that Chattanooga used 49 players. The Mocs had 19 different defenders make a tackle, while The Citadel had 12.
Even so, Mocs coach Rusty Wright said that one reason he went for a 2-point conversion in overtime was just to get the game over with.
"It was time to get on the bus," Wright said. "Everybody was healthy at that time, we just had some sprains and bumps and bruises. This spring is a whole lot different than it is in the fall, and it was time to get on the bus and go home.
"The least amount of plays we can play, on both sides, and I'm sure Brent feels the same way. We've got to get these games over with, keep them healthy and get them to the fall."
The SoCon already has had one game postponed due to a lack of players. Wofford's game at East Tennessee State was called off after the Terriers reported they had only five defensive linemen available, below the SoCon guideline of six.
A SoCon spokesman told me last week that the league's guidelines include a minimum of 53 available players, including seven offensive linemen, six defensive linemen and two quarterbacks.
"This is just a guideline," he said. "There are other factors that we evaluate, including reports of campus health professionals about issues going on around teams."
In Wofford's case, he said, "Wofford reported its issues to us, submitted reports from their medical personnel and requested to postpone the game. We reviewed their medical reports and supported their decision."
Despite The Citadel's low numbers, Thompson said he doesn't think the Bulldogs are in danger of falling below SoCon minimums for position groups. A Citadel spokesman said there are more than 53 players available.
"We're OK right now," Thompson said. "We'll mix and match a few position groups and moved some guys around on Sunday. We have some guys with position in our back end (on defense) and at running back. We're OK right now, but we don't want to take any major injuries or any other COVID issues."
Nevertheless, there is a SoCon championship trophy and an FCS playoff berth on the line this spring. VMI and Chattanooga are off to 2-0 starts to lead the way thus far.
"You've got to look at this spring as a coach and then as a player," Thompson said. "As a player, I'm going out there to compete and win. As a coach, we're going out there to develop, compete and win, probably in that order."
• All-America linebacker Willie Eubanks III injured his left arm/shoulder against Chattanooga and is likely out for Western Carolina, Thompson said.
"Doesn't look good for this week," Thompson said. "But he probably will be back this season, we just don't know if it's two or three weeks."