I should stop being surprised. Truly. The young men who comprise the St. Olaf College football team should no longer make my jaw drop and my eyes well up and my heart swell as they display intelligence, integrity, devotion to one another and maturity.
These are the reasons, these attributes that feed into this overwhelming sense of family, that my son chose St. Olaf after all. These are the things that make a 1-9 football season feel like a resounding success in so many ways. Then, I attended the 2013 Football Banquet Sunday, and I was not only reminded of why the young men of this team are extraordinary -- the sheer power of their character washed over all of us in attendance.
On a day when the team celebrated the on-field prowess of its best and most consistent performers, the pulse that ran through the proceedings was one of love for their coaches, their brothers, their families, their God and their school. All-Conference and team MVP honors were bestowed to a very deserving group of excellent players.
Senior receiver Eric Curry was named Offensive Demo Player of the Year and senior linebacker Dylan McDonough was named Defensive Demo Player of the Year for their selfless efforts, week in and week out, to help their teammates prepare and improve.
Senior receiver and captain Jake Schmiesing was named All-Conference, as well as Offensive Most Valuable Player; senior reciver Stephen Asp, a preseason All-America, earned All-Conference and led the team in receptions and yards; sophomore quarterback Nate Penz was named All-Conferece; senior offensive lineman Alex Hsu, described as the heart of the offensive line, earned All-Conference; senior safety and captain Cam Smith led the team in interceptions and earned All-Conference, Defensive MVP and Team MVP awards for his inspiring play.
Senior defensive back Derek Henle was named All-Conference Honorable Mention, as was senior linebacker and captain Erik Marigi, who led the team in tackles; junior receiver Joel Reinhardt, who had a breakout game against Carleton, also earned All-Conference Honorable Mention and senior offensive lineman Mike Yanckello, a 3-year starter, earned All-Conference Honorable Mention. Sophomore running back Connor McCormick was the team's leading rusher and won the MIAC Sportsmanship Award. Senior running back and captain Michael Thai, who has his season ended with a broken ankle on his second carry of the year, was named the Danielson Award Winner after his leadership and devotion to his teammates never wavered.
Quarterback Nate Penz, defensive lineman Kyle Foster and receiver Magnus Schyler spoke about the welcoming warmth and leadership of the seniors, of the pervading sense of family. They spoke of memories and relationships that will last a lifetime.
But perhaps the most emotional moment of the day came near the end, when senior linebacker Jimmy Gildea rose to speak. Jimmy admitted that he thought about not playing this season, that he felt underappreciated. Then, he described how an honest and heartfelt conversation with Head Coach Craig Stern convinced him to join his Ole brothers for one last season. No, he said, it was not the season -- record-wise -- that any of them expected nor wished for. But, choking back tears, he described a year to always be remembered.
I asked Jimmy if I could share the words he spoke to his brothers. He graciously and quickly sent them along. Thank you Jimmy, and all the Oles, for continuing to amaze me with the strength of your character and the fullness of your hearts. Please read Jimmy's words. And witness the power of brotherhood, maturity and love:
Losing becomes all too easy when you allow yourself to point a finger. I believe, with everything in me, that in order to become successful you must care enough to subject yourself to the burden of taking responsibility, not only for your great plays, your resounding words, or your praise-worthy leadership but, for your mistakes as well. This takes maturity, it takes selflessness, and, most importantly, it takes a legitimate sense for one's own place within a team. Taking responsibility for your own mishaps and then making the commitment to learn from them is the most significant step in the journey to success. Without such presence of mind being adopted unanimously, along with the universal willingness to put the good of the group above all else, failure is certain.