The Iowa State football roster lists 21 seniors; some of them are household names, others are not. All will be playing their final game under the lights and titanic video board on Saturday night.
Men like Jeremiah George, Jeff Woody, Jacques Washington, Deon Broomfield, James White, Shontrelle Johnson, Ernst Brun, Willie Scott, Jansen Watson, Walter Woods, Albert Gary, Kyle Lichtenberg, Ethan Tuftee, Justin Coleman, Cliff Stokes and Kirby Van Der Kamp all will receive a much deserved warm reception when they walk out of the tunnel for the final time.
And then there are the senior walk-ons like Gage Shaeffer, Wes Boyer, Edwin Arceo, Ben Fisher and Mitch Amundson who battled every practice without an expectation to get any recognition.
Say what you want about the state of big business college athletics and the perks players have at the BCS level. At the highest level, college athletics can be a farce. But for every Johnny Manziel there are 10 walk-ons who are putting their bodies through the ringer for no outward reward. These men are rarely publicized, but put in the same amount of hours and preparation because they love the game and love to wear the helmet.
Imagine doing something that consumes everything in your life for five years. Each decision you make centers around that one world and everything else is secondary. And in the snap of a finger, the all-consuming world is gone. The majority of the seniors on the Cyclones are not going to play another snap of football once the West Virginia game concludes. Their entire lifestyle has to be recalibrated. The years of a constant, grueling dedication to one pursuit comes to an inevitable end.
Few get to quit football on their own terms.
You are taught as a youngster that all your biggest dreams can come true. I dreamed of becoming a point guard in the NBA. My teachers always told me anything was possible. By seventh grade, I realized my lack of height and athleticism would not make that possible. I’m still waiting for that growth spurt.
I’m sure these seniors didn’t envision a two or three win senior season; who would? But as the years pass by, you come to learn that life isn’t all about the end results; it’s about getting up each day and continuing to grind. There is a intrinsic reward within the day-to-day struggle that is ultimately more valuable than any bowl swag or media adulation.
Because within the toil of routine comes an appreciation for people that are pushing alongside you. It is the relationships that last the longest.
Those relationships can form despite never meeting. There is a kinship between players and fans that is unique in its anonymity, yet the same joy and pain the players feel is reverberated by the fan-base.
When asked earlier this week about his senior day, Jeremiah George said:
"I really want to go out with a win, not for myself or the seniors, but for the fans who have been great, who have been outstanding. And we want to show them our appreciation."
That appreciation is a two way street.
The athletes that put on the Cardinal and Gold are more than just players on a playing surface. They are representatives of an entire University and the hundreds of thousands of Cyclones throughout the world. They are the select few who have the influence to bring us all together.
It is easy to get caught up in the details and the minutiae of the action on the field, the wins and losses and the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately. But sometimes it is necessary to step back and say a simple thank you.
These men laid it on the line to represent all of Cyclone Nation. Their football careers are coming to an end, but their Cyclone legacy continues onward.
Thank you seniors.