After a rocky start, Charleston Southern’s senior class of football players will go out winners on Saturday afternoon when the Buccaneers host Liberty in the final regular-season game of 2013.
The number of seniors making that final walk onto Buccaneer field is relatively small. Only 11 seniors are listed on the 2013 roster. For a handful of that small group, Saturday’s game completes a sometimes rough and rocky journey as members of the school’s football program.
Those who started in the program four years ago have survived an embarrassing 0-11 season in 2011. That losing streak reached 14 games early into the 2012 season. Since, however, the Buccaneers have won 15 games, including a record-setting 10 wins this season.
Now, this senior class can go out as Big South Conference champions if they beat Liberty on Saturday, thus earning the school’s first-ever berth in the national FCS playoffs.
“It’s crazy to think about,” says linebacker Calvin Bryant, CSU’s top tackler and all-conference candidate. “To know where we were just two years ago and now we have a chance to do something very special. Honestly, I haven’t thought much about it being our last game or whatever because I truly believe we will still be playing after Saturday.”
Quarterback Malcolm Dixon has certainly been at the forefront of CSU’s highs and lows. He began his career as a receiver, moved to quarterback during the middle of a season, earned his first start at Kentucky and had an outstanding game.
Dixon made his mark on the school’s record books for total offense and was an all-conference candidate entering this season. An ACL injury late in the win at Appalachian State ended his season as the team’s offensive leader.
Dixon, however, put off surgery and returned three weeks ago to hold for extra points and field goals. It’s not quarterback, but Dixon says any way he can be a part of CSU’s special season is enough for him.
“It’s so much better to be in pads, dressed out, contributing in some way,” he said. “This being it for me, I had to be out there somehow. I just could not sit on the sidelines and do nothing. I wanted to be a part of what this team is doing.”
Defensive back Matt Hardy is the defense’s version of Dixon, without the injury. Hardy has moved from corner to safety to spur throughout his career, but he never complained. He sacrificed to get on the field. Saturday will be Hardy’s 29th career start. He has played in all but one game during his four years on campus.
“Man, it has been a ride,” said Hardy. “It’s hard to look back at 0-11 and then see where we are now. I’m glad I stuck with it. I am glad I am here with my teammates, my fellow seniors, to enjoy this opportunity. Guys like Will (Hunt), Calvin, Malcolm, Kirby (Broome), they have been through it all. We have been through it together.”
Charleston Southern head coach Jamey Chadwell appreciates the efforts of the senior class, a group that adjusted to a new coaching staff but never stopped leading.
“This is a strong group of young men, guys who are going to be successful after they leave here,” said Chadwell. “It’s tough on seniors with a new staff coming in. A lot of times they just go through the motions because they figure the staff is going to focus on the younger guys.
“These seniors have been great leaders and I have really enjoyed sharing this season with them. Whether we win or lose on Saturday, we’ve had a great year and these guys have been a big part of it.”