For seniors, last football game marked bittersweet end to 4 years as teammates

Senior offensive linemen Paul Bielo (61) and Jared Barton (70) right before the snap against a game again Morrisville State. Picture by Norwich University

There isn’t much like tying your cleats and putting on your jersey knowing it’ll be the last time. The seniors on the Norwich football team did just that on Saturday, Nov. 10 at Sabine field.

No more kickoffs, no more touchdowns, and no more wins.

For the past four years, 11 seniors on the football team have given all their time and energy to training for football – and just like that their athletic career is over. They will take with them the memories they made and teammates that became family, as well as lessons that go far beyond the athletic field.

Even though their final game was a close 20-17 loss to WPI, they gave it their all on their last time on the field, appreciating the opportunity they had to play the sport they love at Norwich.

Many of the seniors have worked their way up to playing key roles on the team, which ended the season at 3-7. Defensive back Bo Phillips, a criminal justice major as well as a two-year starter for the Cadets, reflected on the season’s end.

“I mean, I have mixed feelings about the last game, I’m happy I had the chance this year to play with the people I love, but I’m sad because now that we had our last game it is all over.”

Phillips played safety for Norwich’s defense this past year making crucial stops and forcing turnovers, including picking off WPI early in the final game to set the offense up in excellent field position, leading to a field goal. Whoever follows in his footsteps taking his position will have tough shoes to fill in the upcoming years.

Senior defensive back Bo Phillips. Picture by Norwich University

The seniors on this year’s roster were very different in positions and in personalities. On the opposite side of the ball D’Andre Morgan is an English major who played on the offensive line for the Cadets. Though Morgan didn’t see much time on the field, he found a key role on the team in leadership both on and off the field.

Having the opportunity to play for Norwich meant a lot him, he said, noting the end of his career made him feel “emotional, for a lot of reasons but more so because I know in the back of my head that I’m leaving the game I love the most behind, to move on to bigger and better things in life.

“There’s a very small percentage of players who get an opportunity to play collegiate football out of high school and I’m fortunate enough to be part of that percentage. While the season is over, and I won’t play another snap in the Maroon and Gold, I’m fortunate enough to call the group of guys in that locker room teammates and brothers,” Morgan said.

D’Andre added that he’ll long remember his time on the gridiron with his teammates but the effort of the coaches.

“The memories I’ve created with those guys, I will have for a lifetime and no matter how far away we all are, we can stay in touch with one another years down the line. I’m grateful for the opportunity to play college football and there’s no other words to describe the experience I’ve had over the past four years,” he said.

“I owe a lot to the coaches because without them I wouldn’t have made it through four grueling years of pain and sacrifice,” he added. He credited the coaches for teaching him more than just sports, saying they taught him “how to be a better man in the time left on campus before graduation and in the future when I have a family of my own.”

Senior offensive lineman D’Andre Morgan. Picture by Norwich University

Norwich football players interviewed feel as though playing has not only changed them as athletes, but also as individuals. The seniors said they feel grateful for their opportunity to play college football, knowing very well that many of their high school friends didn’t have the chance to play for the past four years.

Dustin Spatz, a cornerback for Norwich’s defense and a criminal justice major, played a key role on special teams this past season. Spatz said he had a hard time believing his football days are over. “It honestly didn’t hit me till we were running off the field. I hear all these clichés about how fast it goes, but I never realized it until that moment. I went up to Bo (Phillips) and we just looked around and took it all in. We both mentioned how fast it went and just couldn’t believe it, “ he said.

“I didn’t want to take off my helmet or pads for a while because I knew that would be the last moment I unbuckled everything. But I am so thankful I had the opportunity because I know a lot of people who had to take their pads off after high school, but I was lucky enough to get another four years. It’s hard and I don’t think it will fully hit me until next fall when I see my brothers go back on the field and I’m watching from the stands,” Spatz said.

Even through the tough times these past four year. facing workouts and practices and trying to get some wins, the seniors said they all felt the same when it came to the final game of their college football careers. Many of them will return next year for football but it won’t be to play: They will be sitting in the stands watching their old teammates.

The seniors mentioned how they don’t think it will hit them until they don’t return next year. Said Garrett Chapell, a criminal justice major who started as a quarterback, but finished as a tight end: “It was bittersweet, I’ve played for so long and now it’s all over.

“I don’t think it will really hit me until next fall, for the first time in years I won’t be putting pads on and being a part of a team,” he said,

Though this may be a sad point for players, they are looking towards their futures. As they get closer to graduation, they will begin to look for jobs and they say the leadership football has given them will benefit them in their careers.

Clay Faris is a physical education major who played long snapper and will be remembered for his style of always wearing flannel. Clay said he is looking forward to his future though he agrees the last game was bittersweet. “It sucks that I will not be playing football again with the boys, but it’s also nice that I got to finish one of the biggest chapters of my life, and now going to be starting a new chapter that will hopefully be just as good and fun!” he said.

Looking at the positives as their football careers end, the seniors are focusing on their final semester and thinking about the day they will walk across the stage in May with their teammates and coaches watching. To most, playing at Norwich was more than just football, it’s about being a part of something bigger than themselves. Having the chance to be a part of the team created friendships that will last a lifetime. It gave them a unique college experience and helped them grow as people over the past four years.

As all all these seniors cleaned out their lockers and handed in their jerseys for the final time, they knew it was the end. They’ll never have a time where they get to put pads on and be on the sidelines of a Norwich football game. But they will always have the teammates and memories they made over the past four years.

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