Ohio seniors seek to go out winners
It was unthinkable a month ago, but on Friday the Ohio University football team could be saying goodbye to a senior class with more wins than any other in program history.
Thanks to a current three-game losing skid, the Bobcats (6-5, 3-4 Mid-American Conference) now no longer have a guaranteed bowl game to look forward to. Ohio could still be selected for a bowl game, but that has become a secondary concern for the team. The Bobcats will face UMass (1-10, 1-6 MAC) in a 2 p.m. kickoff.
Now, it's all about trying to win again and finding a way to send those aforementioned seniors out on a winning note.
"It's a lot, it's emotional," said Ohio senior tight end Troy Hill. "We're still trying to look forward to it like any other game, preparing the same way. We still want a winning season."
A month ago, the Bobcats were 6-2, still competing for a MAC East championship and lining up a potential bowl game. But in November, Ohio is 0-3 and has been out scored a combined 123-16 in its last three games.
The finish has spoiled what was to be a potential MAC championship season. The nature of the losses has also, perhaps, tarnished the legacy left by the senior class. The group, 19 players in all, will be honored in a pregame ceremony prior to Friday's game.
The players admit some of fans' disappointment the last three weeks is warranted, and felt in the locker room.
"I feel like we let a lot of people down this year," senior safety Xavier Hughes said. "I know as a senior class, everyone has worked hard. We tried our hardest to make everything go right. It just didn't happen for us this year.
"Personally, I feel we did let down man. We did let down."
Senior linebacker, and team co-captain, Keith Moore admitted the players realize how they're being viewed.
"The reality of it is, it might. You hate to think that, but it's the reality," Moore said about the legacy of his class being tarnished. "But I think once we get this 'W' hopefully that kind of talk diminishes because it's sad to think people are actually saying that. It's interesting."
The class, many of which are fifth-year seniors, has been at the forefront of best era of Ohio football in the modern age. Since 2009, the Bobcats have compiled a 42-23 record and this season could make it five straight years with both a winning record and bowl game bid. Ohio has won two straight bowl games — the first pair in program history — and a pair of MAC East Division championships.
There's no doubt accomplishments of the group are remembered by head coach Frank Solich, who earlier this week declined to debate the 'legacy' of the group. He preferred to talk about the need for the group to go out — in the event a bowl game doesn't happen — as winners.
Solich even credited the group for the construction on the Walter Fieldhouse, an indoor practice facility built next to Peden Stadium which should be complete in February. Without the current crop of seniors, Solich doesn't believe the facility becomes a reality.
"Without them being successful and doing the right things off the field, as well as on the field, we would not have been able to get the indoor facility built," he said. "They've won a lot of games. Gone to bowl games, won bowl games, helped us step forward with our program.
"You'd like to see them go out like they've been their entire college careers."
It's been a tough four weeks for the Bobcats. But they don't want their season to end. Those asked this week said, without a doubt, they'd love to go to another bowl game as much as they want to post another winning season.
"Everybody's down because of the losses, but we're trying to keep each other up as a team. The coaches are trying to stay on us to keep us motivated," Hill said. "So yeah, we definitely want to keep playing. We'll prove it (Friday) and if we get in a bowl we'll prove it there."
Moore said he doesn't believe he's playing in his last collegiate football game on Friday.
"I haven't thought about that too much. It's another game for me. I'm a pretty optimistic person so I'm banking on going to a bowl game," he said. "Let's get this 'W' and go to a bowl game and then I'll worry about playing my last game.
"Of course (we want a bowl game), that's why we play football. That's why we dedicate half our lives to this," Moore added. "You always want to keep playing."
Whether Ohio gets a bowl bid is in part out of its hands. Whether the Bobcats end with a winning record in still within their reach. To that end, Hughes aims to do whatever he can to ensure that happens against UMass.
"It means the world to me. To not go out as a loser in your last year means a lot. We want to be winners," he said.