The end always comes suddenly, especially for seniors.
At 4:09 p.m. Saturday, the careers of four fifth-year seniors abruptly ended, courtesy of a 33-30 double overtime loss to DePauw in the 129th Monon Bell Classic in Little Giant Stadium.
Gone with it were the hopes of those seniors, and their teammates, of a Bell Game victory, a conference championship, and berth in the NCAA Division III Playoffs. This year, those spoils go to the victors.
Gone is the chance to play again, to continue a career that spanned five seasons (one canceled due to a pandemic), 28 wins, an NCAC title, and an NCAA playoff berth. A total of 2,460 regulation minutes together on Saturday afternoons, including 522 drives and 2,956 plays.
“The outcome today obviously wasn’t what we wanted, but that’s life, right,” a rhetorical answer from offensive lineman Joe Mullin.
But this particular group of seniors—Mark Caster, Mullin, Liam Thompson, and Cooper Sullivan—take with them something deeper. At Wabash, we call it brotherhood, and it’s a connection that can’t be quantified. It goes deeper than wins and losses for as long as life shall last.
“I know I made the right choice to come here,” said Thompson, the record-setting quarterback from Indianapolis. “These guys are my brothers for life. Football doesn't build character, it reveals it. It’s a credit to be at this place, to play football here, to live here for the past four and a half years and have these relationships for the rest my life.”
Even before walking off the field for the last time Mullin was struck by the opportunity delivered to him through the Wabash football experience.
“It's an institution where you grow, you come in as a boy and you become a man,” said the Academic All-American from Indianapolis. “I came here with the promise of a top-tier education and play football, too. These four and a half years went by so fast. I wouldn't have it any other way.”
In the shadow of the late afternoon sun, Sullivan, a wide receiver from Jacksonville, Florida, thought about Thompson, his quarterback and the accomplishments they posted together. Thompson finished his career with 20 school and conference passing and total offense records and is a finalist for the National Football Foundation’s William V. Campbell Trophy, given annually to college football’s top scholar-athlete.
“He and I have been with each other through the ups and the downs and I couldn't be more proud of what he's accomplished here,” said Sullivan, who finished his career as Wabash’s career leader in receiving yardage. “Not only as an athlete, but as a student as well. It speaks volumes to his character and I couldn't be happier to have him as a friend and say some day he'll be the best man at my wedding.”
Mullin had similar sentiments for Caster and the decision they made two years ago to ride this out over a fifth season.
“He’s my buddy,” Mullin said of his fellow offensive lineman. “Mark is hardest worker on this team, really dedicated. I can't say enough about him. He's a great human being who will do what great things in life.”
The collective character of his teammates will impact Sullivan well into the future.
“I am very blessed to be a part of this team, every single one of them, these last four and a half years,” he said. “We really harped this whole week about how we were going to fight because we love one another. As clichéd as it might sound, this truly is a brotherhood and I’m happy to be a part of that.”
As he accepted a handshake from a family member and started his walk to the locker room, he was asked if the experience was worth it.
“Yes,” he said through a faint smile, “a zillion times. I’d do it all over again a zillion times.”