North Texas Daily

Emotions run high for departing football seniors

Emotions run high for departing football seniors

Emotions run high for departing football seniors
November 25
00:18 2014

Ehsan Azad / Staff Writer

Fresh off beating Florida International University in the home finale on Saturday, head coach Dan McCarney sat down to face the media, trying his best to hold back the emotions of the night. His trademark sunglasses hid potential tears as McCarney choked up talking about the performance his seniors pulled off and the new tradition they have created by winning at Apogee Stadium.

“When I think about this senior class, they were here and helped me build this program,” McCarney said.

This senior class helped open  Apogee Stadium in 2011 and a real home field advantage has since been created. Since moving into Apogee, the Mean Green has built a 16-7 record at home.

The team will lose 17 seniors to graduation, and while that isn’t a huge number, McCarney said the impact would be felt in terms of the character of the players.

“That isn’t big in numbers but it is big, so high, and deep in quality, character, class, commitment, loyalty and those things are hard to replace, no question about it,” McCarney said.

McCarney reflected about how the senior class has helped create a culture of leadership in the program, which has influenced younger players. 

“These guys have done a great job of continuing that with this class of only 17 seniors,” McCarney said.

However, McCarney said he is not focusing on the future. Instead, he is focused on the last game on the schedule and spending time with the team before everything is finished.

“Right now, the most important thing is we have five days left. We only have five days left as a football family,” McCarney said. “We will have memories. We will have experiences. We will have wins, losses. We will have a bowl championship. We will have some disappointments along the way, but these are the last five days we have. So let’s make the most of it.”

The emotions for McCarney seem to keep coming back, especially when talking about the departing seniors. McCarney fought back tears when talking about the impact that senior offensive lineman Cyril Lemon had on the program.

“It is going to be hard to walk in that locker room and know that will be the last time you will coach him, teach him and mentor him,” McCarney said.

As emotional as their head coach was, the senior players, such as Lemon, also understood how big winning their final game at Apogee was.

“Just pure excitement and pure happiness,” Lemon said. “We’ve strived so hard this year and a lot of things didn’t go our way, and to have that last win at Apogee, it was something special.”

Looking back on his career, Lemon said playing for the Mean Green was special.

“That is why I chose UNT, I wanted to be a part of something bigger, be in the process of building a program and I think that is something we have done,” Lemon said.

Others players like senior defensive back James Jones didn’t feel the emotional impact of the moment until the end of Saturday’s win.

“It was a very emotional game for me. I haven’t been here the entire four years, but I was a part of the change,” Jones said. “It didn’t hit me until the clock struck zero.”

Jones said he was glad they got the final home win, not only for the seniors,  but also for their retiring defensive coordinator John Skladany.

“It felt good to send him out, and ourselves, out on a good note,” Jones said.

Senior linebacker Derek Akunne said though the season wasn’t as successful this year, this senior class does have something to be proud of.

“I think the legacy we have here is that we were all a big part in last year’s bowl win,” Akunne said. “We still took a part in turning the program around and getting it going in the right direction.”

Akunne said his best memory was winning the Heart of Dallas Bowl last season. He walked out of the tunnel and saw a sea of green, which gave him instant butterflies. As the team prepares to play their last game of the season against the University of Texas – San Antonio on Saturday, Akunne expects the emotions to be high.

“I had to hold back some tears last week when they were doing the senior introductions,” Akunne said. “I know it will be very emotional for this last week of practice and this last game, just knowing it will finally come to an end.”

Featured Image: Head football coach Dan McCarney hugs senior defensive back Lairamie Lee during the team’s senior day ceremonies on Saturday against Florida International University. Photo by Ryan Vance – Staff Photographer

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