Fighting Scots bring USA South Championship home to Maryville
If I could draw up one way to end my football career here at Maryville, I would draw it up just as it happened this season. For the first time since 1931, the Fighting Scots have brought a conference championship to Maryville, and I have the honor of saying that I was a part of it. For many outsiders, it is just a conference championship.
But for the players, especially the seniors, it means so much more. It’s not about the conference championship, as much as it is about the road that we have taken to get it. For each of my first three seasons here at MC, we went 4-6, and I can honestly admit that I was a little embarrassed to say that I played football for Maryville. Trust me, I wasn’t the only one. Before each season I remember telling myself, “This is our year. This is the year we shock the conference,” and every year I was wrong. I don’t even think I really believed what I was saying deep down; it just sounded good on the surface. There was no single problem that was the cause of our failures. From top to bottom, there were multiple factors that affected the outcomes of the games on Saturday afternoons.
Players were playing for themselves and the communication and relationships between players and coaches were far from healthy, to say the least. Players were fighting, getting alcohol violations every weekend, and the worst part about it was that no one truly cared anymore whether we won or lost. Then something happened that sparked the start of success leading into the 2012 season. Coach Rader was hired as the new head coach, and he brought an entire new staff with him. Rader wasted no time getting us ready for the season. After the workouts that he put us through and the way he earned our respect immediately, I knew the Scots’ future was bright, for real this time. For the first time since I came in as a freshman, the team was finally coming to together as teammates, as friends and as brothers.
The anticipation and the expectations of the 2012 season were higher than I had ever seen here at MC. Not only were the expectations high within the program, but other students, alumni and the entire community was ready to see what all the hype was all about. After starting out 0-2 though, the season didn’t begin at all how I expected and flashbacks from the previous three seasons began creeping in. The thought of “here we go again,” was a popular feeling around the team, specifically among the seniors. I knew that feeling all too well and was determined to do everything I could to get rid of it.
After losing a close, hard-fought game to Christopher Newport in our first conference game of the year, there was still hope that we could turn the season around. The ability to keep a positive outlook on the season is the biggest difference from the 2012 team and any other Fighting Scots team that I had played for in the past. Even when things weren’t going our way, there was still a positive vibe coming from the team. From that point forward, we went on to win four of the next five games and found ourselves in the hunt to share a conference championship with Ferrum and Christopher Newport with one game left. That one game was against Ferrum, the top team in the conference. With all odds against us, we stormed into Ferrum, Va. and shocked the USA South world. I remember clinging on to a 13-10 lead at halftime. I looked at my teammates before we went out for the second half, and I told them, “We have two quarters for the rest of the season to be the first team in 80 years to win a conference championship.” I think that really hit home with the rest of the guys because we went out and dominated for the entire second half, winning by a score of 22-17. Then, all we needed was the unlikely upset of Methodist defeating CNU to come true.
As I sat on the bus and received updates from my dad about the Methodist game, all I could do was sit there and think, “Is this really about to happen?” As I curled up in my seat with my pillow and blanket, I remember actually praying that this dream would come true, as if God didn’t have bigger things to worry about. Clearly He cared enough because Methodist went on to win that game 30-29, giving the Fighting Scots our first conference championship, shared or not, since the early years of the Great Depression. In the matter of seconds, the bus went from being completely silent to erupting with cheers, hugs, high-fives and everyone’s best impression of Rick Flair. As for me, I was completely speechless. After three years of disappointment and anguish, I couldn’t even think of anything to say. All I could do was sit there and laugh. The feeling was so surreal that I was just waiting to wake up from the dream.
I looked at Kane, who was in just as much disbelief as I was, and said, “We did it, baby. We’re conference champs.” Everything that we had been through leading up to that point was suddenly worth it. It wasn’t about proving everyone else wrong, it was more about proving ourselves right. We knew that we had the potential to do great things and we finally lived up to it. I have never been so proud to call myself a Fighting Scot and wouldn’t want to end my career any other way.