By Brad Fauber
WINCHESTER -- With one game remaining on its schedule, Shenandoah University's football team isn't in the running for anything special. The Hornets (3-6, 2-4 ODAC) fell out of contention in the Old Dominion Athletic Conference weeks ago.
But Saturday's season finale against Washington and Lee still means plenty for Shenandoah. Ask any underclassman on the Hornets' roster, and they'll all tell you that Saturday's game is for the seniors.
"What should have been an easy transition for them as they were going into their senior year was very difficult -- getting a new coach, having to learn new schemes," Hornets sophomore running back Andrew Smith said Wednesday. "It was almost like being a freshman again, but they only had one year left. So it's just about making sure those seniors go out on a good note, helping them do whatever they need to do to finish off their career at SU."
Saturday's Senior Day is bound to be an emotional moment for a group that consists of just nine seniors, many of whom have spent all four years with Shenandoah's program.
That group has seen plenty of ups and downs in their collegiate career, and senior linebacker Byron Mitchell said he expects it to be tough to control his emotions as all of those memories begin flooding back.
"It will be hard to take in just because all the memories of these last four years will probably run through my head," said Mitchell, a four-year starter for the Hornets. "I'll never forget my first start. It was on our home turf. And then my last start will also be on our home turf. So just reminiscing on the progress that I've made since my freshman year ... when I step on the field Saturday it's definitely going to be emotional. But once kickoff starts, I've got to put that all aside and help this team get a win."
For most, Saturday will mark the final time that the seniors take the field to compete in the sport that most of them grew up playing.
"It's going to be tough because I've been playing football since I was 7 years old. So being that this might be my last time playing, it's going to be tough going out and having that in the back of my head," senior cornerback Sean Blackman said. "But at the same time I'm going to be grateful that I get to play another day of football. It's still going to be a great day for us."
LOOKING AHEAD: A win on Saturday would not only be a great parting gift for the seniors -- it would be an excellent springboard for the Hornets' program going into its first full offseason under head coach Scott Yoder.
Yoder said the value of ending the season on a positive note, no matter how the rest of the season has played out up to that point, can't be overstated. The first-year coach said a win over Washington and Lee (5-4, 3-3) -- last season's ODAC champion -- would give the Hornets some fresh optimism going into Thanksgiving break.
"As a coaching staff, we're always looking for opportunities to kind of highlight what we've been trying to say since day one," Yoder said. "You look at our season -- two come-from-behind wins on the road, getting your first ODAC win at home playing probably our best overall game. Those are teachable moments for kids to learn the right things. So as a coach we're always scratching and clawing for another teachable moment, and that's what we want on Saturday."
INJURY REPORT: Freshman inside linebacker Jason Hager continues to be bothered by concussion-like symptoms, and Yoder said he doesn't expect Hager to be available against the Generals this weekend.
Hager, who has played in eight games this season, didn't play in last week's loss to Emory and Henry after informing the coaching staff that he was suffering from headaches. Hager has 22 tackles this season.
"I'm not planning on having him, just because with the concussion stuff it's out of our hands," Yoder said. "He hasn't progressed the way we were hoping he would, just the symptoms are hanging around. So he's got to get right physically. I'm not expecting to have him Saturday."
Hager's injury further complicates the Hornets' inside linebacker situation, as sophomore Michael Wroble (58 tackles) -- who also did not play last weekend -- has been suspended for the rest of the season for a "violation of team rules," according to Yoder.
Sophomore George Cluster and senior Tommy Abel will see action at inside linebacker again this week.
Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @BradFauberNVD