SENIORS SEE CLOCK RUN OUT FOR THE LAST TIME

THOMAS ELNESS

tkelness12@ole.augie.edu
 
  Augustana’s football team prays before their last game against Southwest Minnesota State last Saturday, Nov. 16.


Augustana’s football team prays before their last game against Southwest Minnesota State last Saturday, Nov. 16.

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-

24 win.

 

“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

time.”

 

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

and service.

 

“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

management.

 

“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

weeknight.

 

“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

coach.

 

“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.”