The outcomes running through Mike Clark's mind weren't exactly positive. It wasn't that he didn't believe Caleb Shertzer could be a solid safety, it's just that he hadn't been spending much time working on playing the position.
Clark and the coaching staff wanted to find a way to get Shertzer on the field, so leading up to the Delaware Valley game in Week 2, the senior was working out at a linebacker spot in nickel and dime packages. But when Ryan Fenningham went down with a knee injury in the early minutes of the second quarter against Delaware Valley, Shertzer was the logical choice to fill in. Sophomore Tanner Troutman was already filling in at the other safety spot for Cody Butler who had been sick all week.
With 2 1/2 quarters to play in a crucial game against the Aggies, the Warriors had a pair of first-time starters playing safety against a deadly passing attack.
"Most of the outcomes, when you think about his week of preparation and the opponent, would not have been favorable," Clark said Wednesday. "So you're going to practice him as a linebacker all week and he's going to end up playing 2 1/2 quarters at safety? OK, we're going to lose. That's what the normal thought process would be."
It was far from the reality, though. Troutman played potentially the greatest game of his career. Shertzer played far better than just admirably filling in for Fenningham, recording four tackles.
And more importantly, for a team which was coming off a season-opening loss, the Warriors won. It was their first win over the Aggies since 2008, and their first win in Doylestown since 2002. It's also been the springboard to a season that has the Warriors sitting atop the MAC along with Widener with a 4-0 record in conference play.
"When I went in I had to make the coverage calls," Shertzer said. "In the preseason I was bouncing back between linebacker and safety and I knew some of the calls. I had two years of experience, so I knew what I was doing in there, but it was such a huge game and it was just a crazy time when (defensive coordinator Steve Wiser) called my name. I didn't know all the calls, but halftime was a big help."
It's taken a long time for Shertzer to finally get on the field in his career on a consistent basis. He came to Lycoming as a running back and was a back-up to the Warriors' all-time leading rusher Josh Kleinfelter. He didn't record a carry as a freshman, but had 15 carries for 83 yards and a touchdown in 2010.
Stuck behind Kleinfelter and Parker Showers on the running back depth chart, the Lycoming coaching staff decided to try Shertzer on defense. But he was stuck in a similar situation defensively, playing behind Fenningham, a four-year starter in the secondary, and Ray Bierbach, an former All-American safety.
But Shertzer is an athletic player at 5-foot-8, 189 pounds. He found his way on to the field in all 10 games a year ago as a special teams player, recording 18 tackles. He led the Warriors with seven tackles against King's last year, and added five more against Stevenson, including a sack.
It's always been enough for Shertzer, though. Although, he's not about ready to give up his spot now as a starting safety.
"I'm the type of person that I'm a team player," Shertzer said. "I just want to win the MAC. I know the coaches are going to start the best 11 players. My role is special teams. I'm OK with that. If my role is to back up Fenn and Butler, I'm OK with that."
Shertzer's role has expanded, though, ever since Fenningham was hurt against Delaware Valley. He's the sixth-leading tackler for the Warriors. He has 21 total tackles, including five against both Lebanon Valley and King's.
He and Troutman have helped provide stability in the secondary as both Fenningham and Butler recover from their injuries.
"I think it shows you he's smart and he listens," Clark said. "It speaks to his athleticism. The guy is heady and is always around the ball and is very coachable. He knows what the expectations are and he's going to do his best to execute what the defensive coaches want him to do."
Shertzer's goals as a starting safety have never changed. When he came on the field to play against Delaware Valley he made a conscious effort to keep plays in front of him, making sure to avoid big plays over his head, as he got his feet wet making the coverage calls and reading the play in front of him.
Although he's become more focused on trying to make plays, he hasn't lost that idea of keeping the play in front of him. Making the big plays comes with confidence, and it's confidence he's building with each passing week.
"I feel a lot more comfortable there than I did at Delaware Valley," Shertzer said. "Fenn has been helping me out a ton. He's with me at practice and in meetings, telling me what he would call in certain situations. I just have to be confident in myself to make plays. But I always have it in the back of my mind to don't give up big plays."
"Mentally, he's in tune," Clark said. "And I think you're seeing how important football is to him."