On Time, Reloading and Arkansas

In some careers, you are always on the clock. Having worked for large law firms serving lots of clients, that’s always been the case for me. While some hear “attorney” and think billable hours, the clock in my ear ticks louder for looming deadlines — contracts to send, deals closing at month’s end, meetings/motions/hearings ahead. Because of that loud tick, the passage of time, spring into summer and summer into fall, often eludes me in the fog of busyness. Occasionally, however, the passage of time lands on me like a ton of bricks, typically in the context of family.

When reflecting, I can easily recall the previous year I shared with my three sons. I remember trips we took, milestones celebrated, hijinks and moments that stood out. Given the school cycle, August provides an organic opportunity for reflection. I compare pictures from their previous first day of school the year prior. And I like to scroll through pictures I snapped of them that previous year, anticipating I’d want to later recall how much I loved that moment. And them. The time I get to share with my boys seems to get richer each year; annual progressions of age strike me as their funnest season of life. Why can’t I pause seasons with them indefinitely? How could it get any better?

But time keeps ticking, seasons keep changing. Life pauses for no one.

The Bearcats’ last football season felt nothing short of miraculous. The magical-seemingly-impossible-program-defining moments came one after another, a deluge of autumnal joy. Against Indiana in Bloomington, the Bearcats emerged from halftime reborn to get over the top. Sweaty UC fans were all that remained inside Memorial Stadium late in the game. Sun beaming down, “Down the Drive” chants reverberated off the concrete foundation. How could it get any better?

Fast forward just a week, most considered Notre Dame Stadium too big a stage for the Bearcats. The Fighting Irish program had a transcendent mystique all its own. Defining win? Their program needed no more definition.

Rudy and Touchdown Jesus and the Golden Dome, however, were outshined by Desmond Ridder and Alec Pierce and Sauce “Sweet Feet” Gardner. The big South Bend stage was transformed into a University of Cincinnati dance floor. I’ll never forget watching Malik Vann plant the C Paw flag in the Irish turf as red-clad faithful river-danced to Down the Drive. How could it get any better?

A month later, College Gameday brought their studio to our picturesque quad in the heart of campus. Rece Davis and Herbstreit took a seat on a makeshift stage in Clifton, during the month of November no less. Throngs of Bearcat faithful celebrated, tailgated, and felt seen by the college football establishment for maybe the first time. It felt like we had arrived (even if the Bearcats were one boneheaded Tulsa quarterback slide away from imploding on the national stage). How could it get any better?

A month later, the Bearcats bested Houston for the conference title before a crammed-to-the-concessions-capacity-crowd inside Nippert Stadium. Bearcat faithful streamed onto the field to mark the miraculous season’s conclusion. Undefeated season notwithstanding, even the most optimistic among the fan base thought it would take another miracle for the Bearcats to receive an invitation to the College Football Playoff.

Then it happened.

The University of Cincinnati Bearcats were invited to face Nick Saban’s Alabama Crimson Tide in the Cotton Bowl. Finally, we were headed to the mountaintop! No more trips to the Military Bowl to beat up on beleaguered ACC teams. How could it get any better?

Last season delivered so many program-defining wins. The roster featured talented players with beautiful personalities, guys who built the program and put the University of Cincinnati on the map. Reflecting on the richness of last season, I miss that team. I miss those players. I miss those moments.

But time keeps ticking, seasons keep changing. Life pauses for no one.

The new-look 2022 squad will play an entirely different schedule with a much different roster. Rather than “rebuild,” Coach Luke Fickell spent this preseason describing the opportunity to “reload.” The Bearcats open the season this Saturday against the Arkansas Razorbacks in Fayetteville (a trip I still need to pack for this evening). Will we reload?

While plenty of talented UC players departed for the NFL Draft, the foundation up front — offensive and defensive lines — returns mostly in tact. Dynamic tight ends Josh Whyle and Leonard Taylor also return. The offensive edges and backfield look to feature some familiar faces, complimented by talented transfers WR Nick Mardner (Hawaii) and RB Corey Kiner (LSU).

The defensive backfield looks to reload without hard-hitting safety Bryan Cook (Chiefs), lottery draft pick CB Sauce Gardner (4th overall to the Jets), and emotional leader/Jim Thorpe Award-winning CB Coby Brant (Seahawks). Likewise, new Offensive Coordinator Gino Guidugli looks to “replace” QB Desmond Ridder (Falcons) with either Ben Bryant (transfer from Eastern Michigan) or Evan Prater (sophomore with limited reps). Recall that Ridder took over the starting quarterback role from Hayden Moore nearly five years ago in Rose Bowl Stadium.

Can a football program reload where it has to replace so many long-tenured emotional leaders? Forget leadership, what about the raw athletic talent that walked out the locker room and now suits up to play on Sundays?

Saturday, against a solid SEC team, should provide some answers. Here’s to hoping for a road win against Arkansas and many more memorable moments to add to last season’s. Go Bearcats!

By: Brian Fox

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