As the college football season winds down there will be at least one special moment remaining for every senior. The culmination of at least four years of hard work and sacrifice is condensed into the final time they take their respective game field. The time goes quick. When freshman enroll in college to play football it is initially overwhelming. A 17 or 18 year old young man walking into college locker room for the first time with no more than a few familiar faces, let alone any friends, is a daunting task. No matter the school, division or team expectations, it seems like that feeling will last forever.
As a freshman seniors told me, “one day you will wake up and be staring down your final season” and “Blink again and you’ll be in the tunnel on senior day.” It goes that fast. Four years of blood, sweat, and sacrifice with teammates (who become your closest friends) will pass by in an instant.
But no one can tell that to the starry eyed freshman showing up to campus. They believe their Senior Day will be at some point in the distant future after they have somehow survived the meat grinder that is college football.
Now those same young men are standing in their locker room, waiting to take the field for the final time in their home stadium. Their parents, friends, and family are all in attendance for what will undoubtedly be an emotional day.
Feelings of confusion swirl inside every player prior to their final home game. There are feelings of completion and accomplishment, the feeling of a job well done, regardless of the awards and accolades. Conversely, yet equally as strong, sadness will swirl inside. For they know this is the end of remarkable journey…. a journey that has been filled with highs and lows, peak and valleys, but memories all the same. Those memories, regardless of their nature, will be all every senior has left after Senior Day is done.
The memories from John Simon’s Senior Day will be forever burned into my mind. The ultimate team player who gave up his knee the week before to help secure the victory. Instead of a celebration, his Senior Day was filled with the emotional anguish of knowing he would be helpless to earn his teammates to a victory. Watching him limp across the field for a final time was agonizing, but I bet he wouldn’t change it for a second. It was his farewell and his alone.
It ended for my younger brother at Ohio University this season. Six years of hard work, injuries, and unwavering desire for competition served him well during his time. As a big brother I am more than proud. We’ve had conversations about how emotional the experience will be, but no words can do it justice. Running onto the field to embrace your parents in front of cheering fans and teammates is a feeling that cannot be bought. It can only be earned.
Earning the feeling is unbelievable because football is the ultimate team game. Rarely are cheers delivered up to one specific player. Whether it’s for a game winning shot in basketball or a walk off home run in baseball, in football there is no equivalent, especially in college where even introductions are made as a team. The only exception is on Senior Day. It doesn’t matter whether it is Ohio University or Ohio State, whether you’re a starter or a substitute… when your name is called and the applause begins… and it feels good.
It was worth returning for my senior season for that moment alone. Running into The Horseshoe for the final time with my closest friends is a feeling that I will never forget. There will possibly be players from the 2015 Ohio State Buckeyes who will never experience that feeling. They will probably be leaving early for the NFL draft and from a sheer business standpoint, everyone making that decision probably should. It is the prudent move. But whenever the issue of leaving early is raised, I always point to Senior Day. It will be a feeling that will never be reproduced and it cannot be explained until it is experienced.
So as Taylor Decker, Braxton Miller, Josh Perry and every other Buckeye senior leaves the locker room, they will then take the long walk down the ramp. As they stand at the bottom of south stands on Saturday afternoon and the PA begins announcing names, there will be tears, applause, and an understanding this moment however fleeting, will be cherished forever.
But remember…. there still will be a game to play.