Saturday night’s game against the Temple Owls sets up as a very important game for the University of Cincinnati Bearcats football team. Of course, Coach Luke Fickell’s Bearcats are 9-1 and ranked 17th in the Associated Press and Coaches’ Polls. Of course, defeating Temple would advance UC one step closer to the American Athletic Conference Championship. Of course, this Bearcats team is in control of its bowl game destiny. Of course, the Temple result has national implications. Of course…
But Bearcats fans, I beg you not to ignore an even more significant story – the character of this group of seniors. This class is special.
With plenty redshirting in 2015, this group has soldiered through seasons in 2015 (7-6), 2016 (4-8), 2017 (4-8), 2018 (11-2), and this year (9-1, currently). Can you imagine the coaching and leadership changes/adjustments these players have undergone in such a short period of time? What were they thinking while preparing for the Spring Game in 2018?
During what must be the emotional low water mark in recent program history, I recall being at plenty of those spring practices in 2018. I quietly wondered whether Luke Fickell’s emphasis on body language was plain nuts. In the middle of one offensive period, I caught an overthrown ball while standing on the sidelines (elegantly dressed in a fine suit of clothes). As is my custom, I ribbed Fickell in the post-practice presser about my elite hands and he jokingly responded that I’d also yawned two times that afternoon. Here’s the thing – I had! Twice!
Regardless, in my head I was thinking who cares about body language, to that degree? Does such attention to “non-football” details translate into more wins? Were the players even elite enough to compete like Brian Kelly’s teams once played? These questions, and many others, hovered over the Bearcats’ football facilities and fan base like a monsoon sky. Consider some predictions prior to the start of the 2018 season.
Mo Egger: ” But the ceiling for this season still seems pretty low, with expectations topping off at a bowl game, maybe… the youth, the inexperience, the limitations at QB, and in large part, the schedule, leave me feeling like a .500 record would be a remarkable accomplishment.”
A remarkable accomplishment.
Athlon: ” With a shortage of stars, and a coaching staff in Year 2 of a rebuilding project, a .500 record might be the best the Bearcats can hope for this season.”
A shortage of stars.
OhVarsity!: “I won’t belabor the point, but a month ago I was trying to pump the brakes on expectations, calmly predicting 6-6 while others worried another year without a bowl game was in the cards. The very few people that were foolish enough to think in the realm of an 8- or 9-win season were scoffed at.”
Only fools thought an eight win season was possible.
Despite the all-consuming doubt that dominated the minds of media members and fans, this group of 2019 seniors, which I’m labeling the “Unshakables,” persevered. While plenty spent time bickering over a program allegedly in ruins…or staring at the storm clouds of back-to-back four win seasons, the Unshakables saw the light. And because the Unshakables trusted their new coaches and devoted themselves to the “process,” the Bearcats could reasonably string together back-to-back eleven win seasons and play in a New Year’s Six bowl in late December.
The individual player story lines are nearly as compelling as what they’ve accomplished, collectively, as a team (T.E.A.M.). Excluding the Air Force Academy (already free to cadets), RS Senior Tight End Josiah Deguara received zero D1 scholarship offers to play football. Now, he is on the verge of becoming UC’s all-time statistical leader in receptions, receiving yards, and touchdowns for his position. In the 132 seasons of Bearcats football, he is just the second TE in program history to eclipse the 1,000-yard receiving mark, joining Brent Celek (Philadelphia Eagles). Oh, and Deguara is projected as a third round pick in the upcoming 2020 NFL Draft.
One of Luke Fickell’s early schematic adjustments involved moving Bryan Wright from the defensive line to linebacker. Wright not only had to learn a new defensive system; he had to learn a new system and position, simultaneously. Much to his credit, Wright has delivered at the linebacker position and, especially given his size, is being discussed as a 2020 NFL Draft candidate. This season, he is the second leading tackler and has the second most sacks on a stout Bearcats defensive unit.
Last season, LB Perry Young tore his ACL against Navy and missed the last four games of 2018. How has he rebounded? Quite well. It might sound strange, but Young actually seems faster and stronger this season. OL Chris Ferguson started his playing career at UC as a defensive lineman (after playing only seven games of high school football). This season, he broke into the starting lineup and suited up against Ohio State a couple of weeks after his native Bahamas was leveled by Hurricane Dorian. OL Morgan James transitioned from professional hockey to football, and, at 29 years of age, is one of the oldest players on any collegiate roster.
The bottom line is the Unshakables are a pretty special group, the whole lot of them.
Saturday night’s game against Temple, then, presents a tremendous opportunity for you, my wise readers and most ardent supporters of the University of Cincinnati Bearcats. I understand it’s supposed to be cold and rainy. Perfect – now your gratitude can be on full display as you shiver and drip and raise your glass to toast the Unshakables!
The scholar athletes to be honored on Senior Night include the following:
- TE Josiah Deguara
- OT Chris Ferguson
- LB Bryan Wright
- LB Perry Young
- WR Thomas Geddis
- OL Morgan James
- K Ryan Jones
- OL Alex Heil
- WR Rashad Medaris
- DB Cam Jefferies
- DT Nick Staderman
- S Collin Widecan
- DT Joe Schroer
- LB Tinashe Bere
- K Sam Crosa
- LS Zach Wood
Join me inside Nippert Stadium, will you? Please? I will be taking attendance at this game but only because I think these seniors are more than worth celebrating.
By Brian Fox
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Thanks for reading along! If you’re not familiar with the Bearcats Sports Radio story, beyond creating sports-related content, I am a Dad, Attorney with Graydon Head & Ritchey LLP, and a lover of all things University of Cincinnati (and America). If you ever want to connect, shoot me a DM on Twitter.