Cardinal Corner: Football Seniors
On this week’s Cardinal Corner, as the football team prepares for their biggest game of the season, we wanted to take a moment to highlight a special group of cardinals.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic…all NCAA athletes were given the option of an extra year of eligibility…for twelve members of the defending national champion football team…who had the chance to stay on campus for a fifth year and defend that title after fearing they may have played their final game without knowing it… they didn’t need to think twice
Dakota Cremeens: “Almost a no brainer, you know? Entering the real world comes in [as] a factor when making that decision for all of us fifth years. Winning a naty’s not a horrible way to go out but it would be tough to leave one year out there still and not give it another chance to go back-to-back.”
Matt Metz: “It was actually a little tough for me because I had to figure out a few things academically. I have to do five years anyway, so it was kind of a no brainer in that sense, but just figuring out my classes that was tough. But the football side of it was a no brainer. I want to be with my teammates, be with my guys. I don’t want to let them down.”
Blake Williams: “I was thinking it was a no brainer. I felt like we have some unfinished business trying to repeat here so I want to come here and make that journey possible. For me, I think we’ve got the group to do it again we’ve just gotta come out here and execute every single day, so i’ll take it one day at a time.”
While the choice to return to campus and the team may have been easy, it brought with it significant responsibilities for these super seniors as leaders of the team, with it largely falling to them to ensure the entire squad stayed on track during the almost two-year layoff.
Khori Blair: “I think having face-time group calls, making sure everyone’s going to summer workouts was huge, and just keeping in touch with everybody.”
Andrew Kamienski: “We just had to make sure that everyone stayed focused, everyone stayed with their playbooks, stayed with their lifts, stayed with the offseason stuff, make sure nobody got in trouble. We’ve just gotta make sure whatever we were able to do, zoom videos, texts, group face-times, whatever we could do to keep all 160 guys.”
Williams: “I think we played a major impact. We kept the team together during the pandemic, got really close with the freshmen and even the freshmen coming in. So we feel like we’re a tight-knit group and that’s how we like to roll.”
While the list of accomplishments for this group of seniors during their time at North Central is long, and of course topped by 2019’s national championship, there is still one box they haven’t checked: beating arch-rival Wheaton in the Battle for the Little Brass Bell.
Kamienski: “This whole week is our whole season right now. Everything else will play out after this week, this is everything for us.”
Cremeens: “Oh it means everything. I’ve never held a bell, so I’m looking forward to holding it on Saturday.”
Metz: “Man, this is all that we’ve been waiting for a long time. Like they were saying, we’ve never won it before. We want it so bad so we’re gonna give it all we’ve got. We’re gonna leave it all on the field.”
Their extra year of eligibility grants the opportunity for a final shot at Wheaton, as well as a chance to repeat as champions. But these cardinals are taking advantage of the bonus time on campus off the field as well, hitting the books just as hard as they hit the sleds and pads
Blair: “I’m actually getting my master’s.”
Cremeens: “With this fifth year I’m pursuing my master’s in business administration.”
Metz: “I’m doing mechanical engineering at northern [Illinois] and I’m doing physics here.”
This year is different in many ways for these Cardinals. They didn’t expect to still be here, they’ve waited through the longest offseason of their lives, they’re defending national champions, they’ve had plenty of time to think about this unique final season and what it means to them personally and the team.
Kamienski: “I feel like we feel hungrier. We know what we accomplished but we know what it takes now, and I feel like everybody’s buying in and that we’re hungrier than ever before to pursue that second one.”
Blair: “It’s definitely different. This is my last first week, so every week I’m looking at it the same way: give every play I’ve got in practice like it’s my last because soon, it’s gonna be.”