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Saturday, Dec 2, 2023

Another Season in the Books for Football Team

Author: Neil Onsdorff Staff Writer

"Athletes are very lucky. Unlike most mortals, we are given the privilege of dying twice — once when we retire and again when death takes us," Johnny Blood.

How true is that quote? For those of you who have ever played competitive sports for a long time, know the feeling one has after putting on their equipment for the last time, hearing the National Anthem for the last time, and leaving the field for the last time — these are some extremely special feelings.

This season has been a roller coaster ride of ups and downs and highs and lows. This past weekend's game against Tufts unfortunately was a prime example of the Panthers experiencing the worst of the worst that at times, has been a long season. As in games past, turnovers and the inability to execute killed the Panthers in this game, resulting in 14 points in favor for Tufts — which turned out to be the point difference in the game. (One positive, even with the Panthers only able to render 6 points, wide receiver Denver Smith '03, broke another receiving record with 5 catches, bringing his season total to 59.)

When the seniors look back at their four years of football here at Middlebury College, they will have a plethora of memories — the tough freshman year, where the team struggled internally on and off the field. A sophomore season that saw an incredible turnaround, a true coming together as a "team," and ending with a dream trip to France. The highlight of their football careers might be their junior season that encompassed total domination of the New England Smal College Athletic Conference (NESCAC), and saying farewell of longtime coach and mentor Mickey Heineken. And of course this past season that has delivered the highest euphoria and the deepest pain.

It is one thing to write about over-all recurring themes, but to fully understand what football and sport for that matter have meant to these seniors, one has to hear from the seniors themselves…

Playing football for me has been a series of great emotions. I've felt the high of being on a championship team and the low of a yearlong injury. Football has taught me so much over the years. I've learned to never quit no matter what. I've also learned the value of teamwork and being a team player. There is so much that I will take from my football experience here at Middlebury it's hard to begin. I'd have to say that the main thing is the memories though. I'm not really referring to plays or games either but rather the laughs and the joy shared by a great group of guys over the past few years.

Matthew O'Hara

What has Middlebury football meant to me? I think Middlebury football is one of the greatest groups of guys you are going to find anywhere. More than anything I think we will all take away the relationships we've forged with each other and the guys in the other classes over the four years. That's the beauty of football — being around your best friends, laying it out on the line together and just enjoying yourself out on the field. In terms of what I will take away: without a doubt I think everyone has certain games or plays that they will remember, but more importantly I think the friendships are the most important thing you can take away from the football experience. I also will never forget the traditions associated with the football team. Singing the "Cheer boys Cheer," skits, the bonfire, Meat Challenge and singing "Dinah" with Peter Kohn. Those are traditions that make Middlebury football unique and that will hopefully endure over time.

Mike Hacker

My mind still won't fully accept that my football days are over. I can't convince myself that it's been four years since I showed up on the field house's doorstep, looking for a set of pads and a team to stand shoulder to shoulder with. All that rapidly recedes into memory, and if I think about it too much, it hurts worse than any injury I've ever received on the field. Football is far more than any one voice could encompass. For me, it was something primal, an outlet for emotions and intensities that have no place in the tidy prim outside world. It was a test, a tempering fire and a way to force myself to become something I could finally take pride in. Most of all, it was a family. A group of incredibly tough, dedicated, thoroughly decent human beings who accepted me, with all my flaws and idiosyncrasies, because of the commitment we made to one another. In all truth, that's what I played for: not the wild joy of total physical abandon, not the fans or the glory, not even the coaches, but my teammates, my friends, men who became my brothers. To all of you, my deepest respect and gratitude. It's been an honor.

Jay Kracker

Football here for me has been an unbelievable and incredible experience. The transition from freshman year when we maybe didn't care as much as we should have, to the coming together as a unit or group for the remainder of my time spent here proved to be good for me, and the team as a whole. There is just something a different about playing football at Middlebury. At other schools, it's football, football, football, but ever since my first day here with Coach Heineken, and now with Coach Ritter, we have been taught first to be gentlemen, then a group, followed by a team, and last, football players. Football has been awesome; I will never forget my time here.

Nicolai Shuman

As you can see, football has delivered to these nine seniors life long lessons that cannot be taught—they had to be experienced. College can teach you lessons for your life, but football has taught these seniors life long lessons.