The Final Chapter
By Edie Markman
Special to GoHolyCross.com
Four years and countless hours of commitment after first arriving on campus, the 26 seniors representing the Holy Cross football program have been crucial to the team’s mental and physical development. Initially reporting to Mount St. James in the summer of 2014, these student-athletes have been dedicated to their program and, through their team’s successes, enriching the lives of Crusader fans. Together, they have persevered through adversity and hardship that has shaped them into incredible leaders. Now, as their final season is nearing its end, the seniors fight harder than ever to make their last minutes on Fitton Field count.
Filled with anxious emotion to meet the demands of collegiate play and course work, the students arrived early to The Hill the summer before their freshman year.
“I was surprised by the intensity of college football,” said defensive lineman Jack Kutschke. “The hardest thing about transitioning from high school football to college is adapting to the level of play.” Wide receiver Darrius Lacy mirrored those feelings when he said, “My head was spinning the entire preseason because of the change in level of play.” More than just athletes, the players had to transition into Holy Cross students as well. “For me, the biggest adjustment I had to make was balancing school and academics,” stated punter Will McGrail. “Improving my time management skills was definitely a huge challenge freshman year.” Nonetheless, the students have proved to be successful both on the field and in their studies.
Looking back on their time as Crusaders, the seniors consider advice they wish they had known as first-years.
“I would have told my freshman self to get my head into the playbook at every opportunity I had,” said offensive lineman Daniel Bernard. “It’s easier to play fast and focus on your technique during the game when you don’t have to think about assignments for each play. The less you have to think the better you play.”
Though their final games are approaching, the veteran players have career highlights that they will remember, long after they retire their cleats.
Fifth-year running back Gabe Guild recalls beating New Hampshire earlier this season as his proudest memory. “They were ranked No. 9 in the nation,” said Guild. “We played well in all phases of the game. I got to watch younger players develop over the years, and in that game some of them stepped up and really shined, making it extremely fun.” Running back Diquan Walker cites scoring his first collegiate touchdown versus Central Connecticut his freshman year to be one of his favorite moments.
Tight end Jayke Simsheuser is hugely passionate about participating in the Big Brother Big Sister Program, which provides some of his top memories. “It’s a great way to give back and become a part of your little’s life as a mentor,” said Simsheuser. “We are all truly fortunate to be at Holy Cross, and I think it’s important to give back to the Worcester community.”
As their impending graduation grows near, the seniors are deciding their plans after their time on The Hill ends. Placekicker and punter A.J. Wells admits his love for “writing stories about southern heroes” and plans on attending graduate school to continue his development in creative writing.
Many players credit the game of football to have taught them lessons of work ethic that will help them throughout their future endeavors. “Football has taught me how to manage my time and work with all members of my team,” said defensive back Chris Sarni. Offensive lineman Charles Steele agrees with Sarni that time management and the ability to work well with others are crucial lessons learned. “Both of these are very important in the workplace, as they will lead to a more efficient and enjoyable work environment,” said Steele, who is planning to work at Boston-based company Arthur J. Gallagher this coming July.
The majority of the 26 seniors initiated their bond before their first year. “We first arrived on campus over the summer” recalls defensive lineman Phil Zobrest. “The thing I will miss most about this team is my teammates,” said fifth-year offensive lineman James Murray. “I’ve met amazing people here that have challenged, influenced and molded me into the man I am today.” Wide receiver Matt Millett agrees that “the camaraderie we have built over the years from freshmen to seniors is definitely going to be missed.”
Reflecting on the brotherly bond the team has formed, fifth-year offensive lineman Nick Piker reiterates, “That’s one thing that sold me on coming to Holy Cross in the first place, and it’s what I will miss when football ends.” Over the last four years, this close-knit group of seniors has become a family and created bonds that will last long after their days of representing the Crusaders are over.
THE FINAL PLAY
As their time of wearing purple on the field draws to an end, defensive lineman Patrick Stewart and quarterback James McHale provide advice for the younger, aspiring players. “Stay positive, no matter what happens,” says McHale. “It’s not the end of the world. You are young, so stay positive, learn from your mistakes, and move on.” Stewart agrees and advises all younger football players to “persevere through the hard times, and be ready for when the team needs you. You never know what’s going to happen in college football.”
With outstanding leadership from its three captains — linebacker Nick McBeath, fifth-year quarterback Peter Pujals and Murray — the senior class is leaving Fitton Field with a lasting legacy for future classes to follow. “I want to leave behind a winning culture that brings excitement to everyone involved in the program,” said McBeath. Pujals, looking back at the fundamental importance of football declares, “When I leave I just want to be remembered as a guy who brought a competitive attitude to the game, and tried to get the most out of the players around him.”
Though their impending finale is near, this is just the beginning for the 26 seniors. Leaving the program in a better place than where they started, the entire senior class will be remembered for generations to come.
This story originally appeared in the Holy Cross Football Gameday Magazine for the Oct. 28 contest between the Crusaders and Georgetown.