WINCHESTER – Shenandoah University’s Old Dominion Athletic Conference slate is wrapped up and senior day was celebrated last weekend in the Hornets’ next-to-last home game of the 2019 college football season. But Saturday’s season finale against Methodist carries a lot of weight for SU’s seniors.
That group of 12 Hornets has already become just the second senior class to not experience a losing season in a four-year span since Shenandoah’s football program was reintroduced in 2000. In their final game of their college careers, many of SU’s seniors are hoping to give the team something to build on.
Hornets senior offensive lineman Daniel Small said Wednesday that his approach – one he feels is shared by his senior teammates – is to offer a tone-setter for SU’s freshmen, sophomores and juniors as they get set to enter the offseason and begin preparation for 2020.
“It’s really easy to just look at this game as just a space-filler or just something that they’ve scheduled that we just need to get over with and move onto the offseason, but for me, it’s my last game, so I’m approaching as I would an ODAC championship because it’s my last time here. For the younger guys, it would really benefit them if they view it the same way because how you finish is truly how you transition,” said Small, who went on to mention Shenandoah’s overtime win over Washington and Lee to cap the 2018 season.
“That kind of momentum springs you into offseason lifting, just really starts the team-building process early. If you just look at it as just another game, you truly won’t get the benefits out of it. As long as you view it as something that will help you in the future, as it truly will be, that’s the key.”
When talking about sending a program into the offseason with momentum, a win always helps, and one on Saturday would give SU (5-4) a winning record in 2019. But defensive tackle Randy Oliver said he and his fellow seniors can also use Saturday’s game as a final chance to show the values that the program should be built on, to show that “this is what it’s all about.”
“This is what you strive to be,” Oliver said of the message the seniors can send to their younger teammates. “You strive to be great, elite as a team and give it your all so that even if your season doesn’t go well, the younger guys, you still show them this is the right way to do things, this is how you do it and this is how you turn yourselves into a winning program.”
SU’s seniors have taken steps to develop a winning culture at Shenandoah. A win on Saturday would give the Hornets a 6-4 record for the third time in the past four seasons under head coach Scott Yoder, and it would mark the first time Shenandoah has posted three winning records in a four-year span.
Prior to the first 6-4 record in that timeframe in 2016, the Hornets had just one winning season (they went 6-4 in 2011) in the previous 11 years.
Oliver said it would mean a lot for the seniors to notch one more winning mark before departing and go down as “one of the best senior classes to ever come through SU.” Small added that a 6-4 record would mean even more than that, though.
“For us, it’s good on paper but when you look at those four losses there are times we left points on the field. That’s why we want to finish this out strong, so that 6-4 turns into a 7-3 and that 7-3 turns into an 8-2,” Small said. “I would love to come back for a homecoming (game) and we’re 7-0, already clinched an ODAC title and be able to finish out and get to NCAA playoff play. That’s my biggest hope: through this last game that me, the other seniors … (the) other contributors that have really been a part of this really just leave a foundation for them to build off of.”
Both Oliver and Small said they expected Saturday’s game to be more emotional than last weekend’s senior day, given the finality of the upcoming noon contest with Methodist. But Small added that the seniors’ quest for some final foundation-building has helped overshadow the fact that Saturday will mark the end of the seniors’ college football careers.
“It’s not really a gloomy feel,” Small said of the mood at practice. “It’s not like the seniors are like ‘Oh, this is the last one coming out.’ It’s really just, ‘Let’s finish this strong.’ We can cry Saturday at 4, but let’s get this done first.”
LEAVING THEIR MARK: Two SU seniors have etched their names atop the school’s record book this season and could potentially move up on the ODAC’s all-time list this weekend.
Casey Stewart, who is 16 yards shy of becoming the school’s first 1,000-yard receiver since Rico Wallace in 2011, recently surged to the top of Shenandoah’s all-time touchdown receptions list with back-to-back three-TD performances that have given the Warren County High School grad 32 in his career. Stewart, who has piled up that impressive total in just three seasons, is one touchdown catch shy of tying Guilford’s Junior Lord for fifth on the ODAC’s career TD receptions list.
Senior safety Nate Hill, who has built his school-record career interceptions total to 18 this season, is tied for fourth in the ODAC with that mark and could move into a tie for second place all-time with another pick on Saturday.
Hill, who has an interception in seven of nine games this season, would also break the school’s single-season mark (seven) that he and teammate Daquan Pridget currently share.