0:00. Win, loss or tie: it was over.
Twelve Augustana senior football players sluggishly carried their college football
careers off the field for the last time after Saturday’s 24-34 loss to Southwest
Minnesota State University in the season finale.
Some cried. Most hugged parents and fellow teammates. They all knew it was
over. No more summer practices that left them covered in a hard day’s sweat.
No more hours-long bus rides back after a tough loss or exciting win. No more
climbing to the top of the stadium in the heat of summer, just to turn around and
do it again with a burning nausea testing their true dedication. It was over.
“The game went by so fast,” senior wide receiver Noah Huisman said. “It was
starting to hit me that this was the last time I was ever going to play the game. It
was a surreal experience.”
Augustana fell behind 17-3 going into the fourth quarter, but made a late surge
at a season-ending victory. The Vikings rallied together 21 points in the closing
quarter, but Southwest Minnesota State matched 17 of those points, sealing a 34-
“It would have been more fun if we would have won the game, but years down
the road I’m sure we won’t remember the scores of the games or the record,
senior strong safety Thomas Vanasek said. “It was fun being out there for the last
Mixed emotions filled Kirkeby-Over stadium as seniors worked their way through
the crowd of vanquished players to find their parents, family and friends.
“I’m pretty surprised I didn’t tear up at the end of the game,” senior free safety
Anthony Tucker said. “But then I got together with everybody afterwards, and I
was bawling. Football is one of those things. It can do that to you.”
Crying teammates surrounded Tucker after the final horn blew.
“I just remember looking up at the scoreboard and crying, just letting it out,”
senior right guard Bruce Manz said. “Five years of blood, sweat, and tears, and
that was it.”
When the dreaded zeros covered the scoreboard, the seniors knew they were
no longer football players, but they realized many of the things that they learned
through their experiences will help them beyond the gridiron.
“Especially with three head coaches, you get a lot of life philosophies on what is
and isn’t acceptable, and what is and isn’t encouraged,” Tucker said. “We’ve just
been groomed to always do things the right way, when it’s supposed to be done.”
Olszewski’s life philosophy is: Faith, family, football. In that order.
“I want each and every one of these kids to walk away with a presence of faith
in their life,” Olszewski said. “I don’t tell them what faith to have. I’m a Christian
man, but I want them to have faith because when they become employees,
employers, husbands, fathers, that is going to carry them through the darkest
moments and their lives.”
Huisman especially appreciates head coach Jerry Olszewski’s attitude toward faith
“He calls everybody to be servant leaders,” Huisman said. “He says to lead
through being servants, and I think it couldn’t be more true, and I respect him for
everything that he taught us.”
In addition to leadership, the seniors said they learned life skills, such as time
“There would be times when I would count up the hours, for how many hours
we spent between treatment, lifting, practices, games,” Manz said. “During the
season, sometimes it would get up to almost 40 hours a week, plus school on top
of that, so you have to really manage your time.”
Season records and the scores of games will fade, they said, but what they will
miss the most: each other.
“There are certain games and situations in games that will stick in my mind, but
most of what I take away is in the locker rooms and on the bus rides, hanging out
with friends and laughing about the things that happen over the years,” senior
wide receiver Darren Niklason said.
Manz said some of his favorite memories haven’t been on the field, citing a time
when teammate Jake Lee came over and they played cribbage until 5 a.m. on a
“Football ends,” Olszewski said. “Even at the epitome of football, in the NFL,
it’s over at some point. It’s the relationships and the memories we create that
athletics should truly be about.”
The outgoing senior class developed a special relationship playing under three
different head coaches over their college careers.
Former head coach Brad Salem left Augustana after the 2009 season, the
freshman year for this year’s graduating class, to take a coaching position at
Michigan State. Mike Aldrich filled Salem’s position coached Augustana from
2010-2012 before being replaced by current head coach Olszewski.
“It almost brought us closer together, because that’s three big culture changes,”
Niklason said. “You kind of have to lean on your teammates, your brothers, to get
through that. You had to adapt to it. With Coach OJ here now, I think things are in
a good place and they’re going the right way.”
Huisman served as a student-athlete on the committee in charge of finding a new
head coach, and he picked Coach Olszewski.
“If you go in a meeting room with Coach OJ, it’s impossible not to feel the passion
that he has for the game,” Huisman said. “He truly is a father figure, and he wants
the best for the kids that he coaches, and he’s just an unbelievable man, really
someone who I wish I had more years with.”
Vanasek, who transferred to Augustana after redshirting his freshman year at
Winona State, said, “It was weird not being able to go out with Coach Aldrich in
my senior year, but the new staff did a great job of helping the transition and
taking care of the seniors the right way.”
Vanasek earned Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference south division second
team defense honors this year. Huisman was named an honorable mention to the
all-NSIC south division team.
Augustana finished the season at 4-7, Olszewski’s first losing record as a head
“That margin of error is just so tiny,” Huisman said. “The line that they have to
cross, between near-wins to barely losses, I think they’re going to close that gap
fairly soon. I don’t think success is far off.”