NEW ORLEANS — Three months ago, D.J. Ponder thought his football career was over.
Now, it may be reaching its zenith.
Injuries to Tulane’s top two quarterbacks — starter Ryan Griffin (shoulder) and backup Devin Powell (toe) — may have thrust the fifth-year senior into his first career start, just months after he left the program to pursue a professional baseball career.
Coach Curtis Johnson said Ponder, a former Catholic High player, will “definitely” play when Tulane (0-3) faces UL-Monroe at 2:30 p.m. Saturday in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. But Johnson said he isn’t sure if he’ll be the only quarterback available.
“Devin is in a (protective) boot today, and hopefully the swelling will go down and he’ll be able to go,” Johnson said. “We don’t know that right now. Ryan had a couple of throws early in practice, and he didn’t do very much today. What we have to do is wait until (Wednesday); and then by Thursday, we’ll definitely know.”
Whether or not he starts, just getting onto a football field at all is far from where Ponder expected to be.
In June, the Baton Rouge native signed a contract to pitch for the Evansville Otters of the Frontier League in Independent baseball.
After an outstanding senior season as Tulane’s closer out of the bullpen — leading Conference USA with 12 saves, allowing an ERA of 1.12 while striking out 35 batters in 49 innings pitched — Ponder eschewed the opportunity to play his fifth and final season for the Green Wave football team.
As a career backup quarterback, who also spent time as a wide receiver and holder on field-goal attempts, Ponder threw only 62 passes in four years and was slated to be the Wave’s fourth-string signal-caller entering the fall, prompting his decision to give pro baseball a chance.
But after just seven appearances in the minor leagues, Ponder was released by the Otters on July 24. Three weeks later, Ponder revived his football career, returning to the Green Wave on Aug. 14 to fill the depth chart void left behind when quarterback Leon Blouin IV transferred from Tulane midway through preseason practices.
“Ponder is a blessing to us,” Johnson said. “He missed a large portion of camp, but now he’s thrust into the situation where he’s definitely going to play, and he may be the starter.
“We are blessed to have him not only because he’s back, but because he’s a veteran guy. He’s been in games before and he’s not wide-eyed.”
In 12 career games at quarterback (21 overall appearances), Ponder completed 26 of 62 pass attempts, throwing five interceptions and no touchdowns.
Although his playing time has been limited and his practice reps in Tulane’s offense have been sparse, several teammates believe his experience in the program will be valuable if he’s forced to lead the Wave’s offense against the Warhawks (1-2).
“I’m so glad he’s here, considering the situation we’re in,” senior tackle Eric Jones said. “He brought a lot to us when he decided to come back. It was really good for us. He has a lot of knowledge, and him and (Griffin) have always worked really closely, so he’s always prepared for what’s coming.
“He’s a really smart kid, and I completely trust him to understand what’s going on. That’s a great addition for our team.”
Still, his potential insertion into the starting lineup is because of a rash of injuries at the position. Griffin, who has started 32 career games, was hurt in a 45-10 loss to Tulsa, prompting Powell to take every offensive snap in last week’s 39-0 loss to Ole Miss.
And if Ponder is unable to play at any point, there is a wake of uncertainty behind him.
Sophomore walk-on Jordy Joseph is now the backup, and freshman receiver Devon Breaux is next in line, according to Johnson. Neither has played a snap at the collegiate level.
“It’s just limited us so much not having the experience back there,” Johnson said. “We have guys who didn’t get the spring (practice season). He didn’t get the installs two and three times like Griffin did.
“We’d love to have Griffin back. I can see Powell playing a role because he did some real good stuff on Saturday. And Ponder, if he has to play, he’ll be limited also, and we’ll get the things that he can do best.”
Mackey arrested again
In New Orleans, suspended Tulane linebacker Trent Mackey was arrested again Monday.
A New Orleans police arrest warrant says he’s accused of breaking into an apartment near Tulane in August and stealing an iPhone, two wristwatches and about $70 in cash.
The 22-year-old had been named the Conference USA preseason defensive player of the year.
Police say the renter told detectives he woke up Aug. 4 to see an unknown man who ran off once he realized the renter was awake.
The man told detectives on Sept. 14 that he realized who the burglar was after reading an article online about Mackey, who was accused in August of arranging a home invasion and holdup.
Mackey was suspended from the football team after that arrest.
The Associated Press
contributed to this report.