The Light at the end of the Tunnel
It’s finally here ladies and gentlemen…. the last game of the 2012 University of North Carolina football season. Wow, this season has absolutely flown by and, for me; this is when depression sets in. After Saturday, the countdown begins to the opening kickoff of the 2013 season (August 31, 2013) in Columbia, South Carolina. That’s right – 279 days till the flagship school of South Carolina and the Ole’ Ball Coach Steve Spurrier and his Gamecocks take on the flagship school of North Carolina. And if you’re like me, you will be counting down every one of those 279 days through national signing day, spring practice, summer workouts, ACC media day and the pigskin luncheon.
With that being said though, this has been a long and winding road for this group of seniors who have lived through 2 ½ years of an emotional roller coaster of change. Not many college football players can say they lived (and endured) through two head coaches, an academic fraud scandal, NCAA sanctions, scrutiny from peers, University faculty and officials, and constant negativity from local fan bases and major local media outlets in particular the Raleigh News & Observer. Within all of this adversity, a group of young men were truly developing before our very eyes not only on the field, but in the community as well (see last week’s column about Jonathan Cooper and Gentle Giants http://chapelboro.com/Gentle-Giants/14110127?pid=278297 ). These seniors have become valuable members of the University community and, despite the controversy that has surrounded their tenure here, will be remembered with fondness and distinction in Chapel Hill.
With the new hiring of Coach Fedora this past December and the reality that the 2012 Tar Heels would not be eligible for post season play, our football program was at a crossroads. All players had the right to transfer to a different University without sitting out a year and a special group of Tar Heel seniors led by Kevin Reddick decided to make a stand and finish what they had started. When Coach Fedora laid out the options to his Seniors during a meeting, Reddick was one of the first to address the possibility of leaving. “After we told the seniors, ‘Hey, you guys can leave if you want. You can do whatever you want,’ “Coach Fedora said.” Kevin was the first one to stand up and say, ‘I’m not going anywhere. We’re going to have a great season here next year.’ ” This shows the kind of character that is instilled in these young men not only by this University but also by the role models who have molded these athletes from prospects to lettermen. The parents, guardians, mentors, pop warner coaches, teachers and counselors all deserve credit for helping to make a forgettable situation a positive and something that the entire program can – and will – build on.
The reason why I bring this up is because Saturday will be the last time that the majority of these seniors will ever play the game of football and ever be a part of a family atmosphere and brotherhood like the one at UNC. I was fortunate enough to get to experience two Senior days (due to a medical hardship) so I know exactly what these guys are going through this week. The week will fly by and the players will experience a sense of loss as they experience everyday moments for the last time – the last Monday practice, the last game plan meeting, the last Tuesday lift session, the last time out with the guys for the weekly dinners. And as they walk through the tunnel and hear the final roar of the crowd and run through the smoke, they will remember back to the day four or five years ago when they first walked through the tunnel with the magic of college football and Kenan stadium awaiting, and they’ll feel as if it passed in the blink of an eye.
As hard as it is for the players to know that the end is near, sometimes the parents or guardians take it that much harder. They have supported and fostered the growth of this player from the days when he couldn’t tie his own cleats to now seeing him play for the last time. Maybe this player achieved his goals and lived up to his potential and maybe he didn’t. Either way, the end is here and it’s a sobering time for all involved. What I hope comes out of this last Saturday and what I think we’ll see is two things:
- 1) A great effort by this football team and a program that is prepared to send these seniors off with a win while looking forward to building the foundation for next year and years to come.
- 2) A packed stadium that allows everyone in the community the opportunity to spend a Saturday in one of the most beautiful stadiums in college football. Let’s all soak it in while we can because 279 days is a far ways off.
Please make sure to tune in one hour after the final whistle to 97.9FM to listen to more post game coverage with Paul Connell and myself on “ON THE HEELS.”
Smart. Fast. Physical. Happy Thanksgiving!!!