Iowa’s senior captains have a last shot to win a trophy this season — an opportunity they hope to take advantage of.
JACKSONVILLE, Florida — The idea hit them individually during the week, the thought crossing their minds one at a time. It must be difficult to not only see the end but to have to accept it, knowing it can not be stopped.
Iowa’s senior captains know Friday is it. When the whistles pierce the warm Florida air, sounding the end of the 2015 TaxSlayer Bowl — no more than a few hours after its 2:20 (CST) kickoff — it will also be the end of their Iowa careers.
Throughout the season, the seniors have been able to put off the end, saying they’re more focused on that given week’s game. It’s an Iowa tradition (almost, anyway) to say they don’t look ahead.
But now, during this week, the subtle hints are surfacing in ways only the end can bring. Middle linebacker Quinton Alston said he first realized it when he saw a clock that was counting down the days and hours until kickoff. Left tackle Brandon Scherff said he first thought of it during practice, when he partook in his final 9-on-7 drill.
“Coach Ferentz said, ‘This is the last one you’ll be able to do,’ ” Scherff said. “And I hadn’t even thought about that until he said that.”
Their senior campaign, while individually stellar, hasn’t been all they worked for. Iowa finished the regular season 7-5 and took fourth in the Big Ten West. In addition to losing each of their trophy games this season, the Hawkeyes failed to beat a Football Bowl Subdivision team with a record above .500.
But Friday’s game against Tennessee provides the final chance for Iowa to add to its trophy case. A victory will give the Hawkeyes eight wins for the second-straight season and will send the seniors off the way they hoped to leave the program.
“It’s all the emotions all mixed together — anxious, nervous, but you’re ready to get to the game and play football,” Alston said. “But at the end of the day, you have to focus on what’s ahead of you. You have practice today or a walkthrough. Right now, all of us up here are focused on practice and trying to iron out everything so that we play well on Friday.”
For two of Iowa’s senior captains — running back Mark Weisman and defensive tackle Louis Trinca-Pasat — the idea that their college careers are ending hasn’t quite hit them yet, at least not fully. They know Friday’s game against Tennessee is one final chance to play, but they haven’t really thought much past that.
“I’m just — it hasn’t really hit me as much,” Trinca-Pasat said. “I’m really just trying to enjoy the moment. When the time comes to reflect, I’ll do that, but right now, I’m focused on the game, and that’s pretty much it.”
Weisman has similar thinking. “I try not to think about it,” he said. “It hasn’t really hit me yet, that Friday is my last game in a Hawkeye uniform. I’m just trying to make sure we go out with a win.”
A victory will also serve as a sweet ending for seniors who have, more or less, seen it all during their time at Iowa. During their four and five years in Iowa City, these seniors saw the 2010 season, the one similar to 2014. There was a lot of hype and even more disappointment, but it ended in a 27-24 win over Missouri in the Insight Bowl.
They saw the rather average 2011 year, which included another trip to the Insight Bowl — except they lost to Oklahoma. They experienced the abysmal 2012 season, at 4-8. They helped the program climb back up the ladder with the 8-4 2013 campaign that earned them a trip to the Outback Bowl.
Now they’re here, with one game to play, and regardless of how they’re feeling, they know it’s all they have left.
That’s all the motivation they need.
“We’re just preparing the best we can this week,” Weisman said. “We have one more game here, and that’s all we have left. We’ll give it our all.”