Jeremiah Toma hasn't played in a game since Dec. 3, 2011 when Fresno State lost 35-28 at San Diego State. The junior linebacker will likely make his 2012 debut versus the Aztecs on Saturday in the Bulldogs first ever Mountain West Conference game.
He was injured midway through camp. He has spent the last six weeks off the practice field on the berms rehabbing a foot injury he suffered during a scrimmage.
"Nothing feels better than being with my brothers," said Toma. "It's rough. All I could do is be on the hill but to finally be over here [on the practice field]…now I can sit here and say that we are together."
Coach Tim DeRuyter is optimistic Toma will be ready for Saturday's homecoming matchup with SDSU. "We are hoping he will be able to withstand [scrimmage reps] and will assess him at the end of the week," said DeRuyter.
While not season-ending, which Toma feared at first, his injury sidelined him for an extended period of time.
"I was doing a lot of pool workouts, getting on the bike, stair master…I couldn't run until two weeks later," said Toma.
"I felt good running around [at practice]. I was little surprised. I was little bit concerned. I'm still recovering…not 100% yet probably 70-80. I'm blessed that I'm able to run. I'm trying not to favor it but I'm working on it."
While he excelled in spring and early in fall camp, Toma has yet to play in defensive coordinator Nick Toth's 3-4 defense. Toth has said he prefers to have as many outside linebackers on the field as possible. Despite starting 13 games last season at MIKE in the 4-3, Toma was recruited as a weak side linebacker. He's a natural outside backer that transitioned seamlessly inside.
"This defense exposes your athleticism," said Toma. "You got to run. You got to think fast, you got to play in the open field…you can't just focus on being inside. You got to run all over the field. I love it!"
Junior Pat Su'a and senior Travis Brown have started at inside linebacker – Brown at the MIKE, and Su'a at weak side. Behind them, redshirt freshman Kyrie Wilson and sophomore Karl Mickelson have seen substantial reps. Toma will certainly bolster the depth, but he isn't concerned where he fits on the depth chart.
"Those two are great leaders and they have done a great job leading this defense, this new 3-4 scheme," Toma said about Brown and Su'a. "Whoever plays on Saturday deserve to play. Whether I get one rep or no reps, I'm just happy to be with my brothers."
But if he gets on the field versus the Aztecs, he's certainly going to live it up.
"You work all year for just 13 of these things. To play in that stadium, under those lights, in front of that crowd, with these guys, nothing gets better."
Senior Shawn Plummer returned to practice this week after missing the last two weeks with an injury. In his absence, Tristan Okpalaugo has started at strong side linebacker. Okpalaugo was backing up Donavon Lewis at the JOKER (weak side rush backer) during the first two games.
Plummer is expected to play Saturday against San Diego State.
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