Six years ago today was quite possibly the longest day of my life.
The day before we upset Elon at home. As the clock ticked down, I climbed the barrier of the student section ready to storm the field with a few thousand of my closest friends. We celebrated on the 50-yard line with the rest of the team. We’d saved our season and had the signature win we’d been missing all year. All that was left was waiting until the next night to see if the NCAA Playoff Committee would include us in the 16-team field.
The NCAA did a strange thing that year: they scheduled the selection show for 7PM on the next night.
We had to wait all day to find out if we were going home for Thanksgiving or if we’d be playing the next weekend.
Sunday was an off day for players that year but Coach Rocco held a team meeting early that morning. He told the team they’d done everything they could and now it was in the hands of the committee. We wouldn’t know until later that day what would happen.
The players left the meeting to get treatment, watch film (you know, just-in-case), and ultimately kill time until 7PM.
I spent most of the day in the office of our Video Coordinator, Danny Wenger. We looked at every possible scenario. We tried to figure out what our chances were and who our biggest competition was. Players and coaches would stop by to ask for details so they could mentally prepare for what was coming that night. In reality, it came down to us and two other teams for one spot: William & Mary and Maine.
Players started rolling into the Donor Room of the Football Operations Center around 6:30 that evening. Fans and other people in the Liberty community arrived just before the show started. The mood was tense. We’d been here a year before and our name didn’t get announced.
The show began and we all waited. And waited. And waited. As the show went to commercial before its last segment, Coach Rocco smacked his hands together and walked out of the room. He saw what the rest of us didn’t:
Maine appeared in the Bottom Line just before the show faded out.
Rocco came back in the room for the final segment already knowing our fate was sealed. In his mind, he was crafting his statement to the team.
That night I saw gladiators cry. I remember Mike Godsil in tears realizing his career was over. Guys like Nick Hursky, Colin Dugan, and Brock Smith hugged each other one final time. These men had gone from 1-10 as freshmen to 10-2 as seniors and suddenly it was over.
A lot has happened over six years. There was Stony Brook in 09 and the monsoon in Conway in 2010. We had the Asa debacle in 2011 and a new coach in 2012. The heartbreak at homecoming in 2013 was a new kind of low.
When Alex Catron lined up on Saturday to take a field goal to break our hearts once again, all the anguish of the past six years came rushing back. Sitting on my knees next to the couch with my laptop on the table, my heart raced with nerves. I clinched my teeth as Coastal snapped the ball. I clinched even harder as Catron’s foot hit the ball. When Chima Uzowihe reached up to block the kick, I jumped up and screamed.
We did it.
We broke the curse.
We redefined “typical Liberty” if only for a day.
Today there will be another meeting in the Football Operations Center to watch the NCAA Playoff Committee announce this year’s bracket. There will be a lot fewer tears and a lot more cheers. For the first time in school history, our football team will gather to watch the selection show guaranteed a spot in the field.
This feels a lot better than six years ago.
Jonathan Carone was a graduate assistant with the football team in 2008. He currently lives in Knoxville, TN and plans to be in the stands next weekend at the first every Liberty Football playoff game. You can read more of his writing at ThisIsntHighSchool.com.