The group — especially those that have been in Carrollton for all four years, as well as four fifth-year seniors — have spent the past few weeks beginning to reflect on their UWG careers as the final campaign nears an end.
“Every time you come out here, you just kind of reminisce over the last four years and try to just take it all in and enjoy it and don’t let it pass me by,” noted senior tight end Daniel Youssif.
From the time they stepped foot on the West Georgia campus to now, a lot has changed for the UWG football program, and in a positive direction. From new facilities to a change in culture to fielding a competitive product on Saturdays, senior defensive tackle Juan Pickett said it’s truly night and day from the time he arrived as a freshman five years ago.
“We went from not competing my freshman year to being a force to be reckoned with now. It’s definitely evolved. I think it’s a direct correlation with the classroom and the football field. If you look back to five years ago when coach [Daryl] Dickey first got here, I don’t think there were too many football players that were graduating. But over the past few years, we have a really high graduation rate. Our success on the field reflects our success in the classroom,” said Pickett, who, along with fellow fifth-year seniors Jordan Ritchey, Kyle Bowman and Ukandu Emeonye, were part of Dickey’s first recruiting class at UWG.
Senior defensive end Brandon McEachern said not only has the UWG program changed, it has ultimately molded him into the leader and person he is today.
“Four years ago, I was a completely different person. I feel like with the help of my teammates, these coaches and everybody that supports this place, I’ve completely changed. I can literally call this place my home,” McEachern said.
McEachern has been battling an ankle injury in recent weeks and it was questionable if he would even be able to finish out the season. But the Buford High School product said there’s no way he’s going to be relegated to the sidelines, especially this Saturday.
“That’s been part of my story, as well. I’ve just been banged up, but I’m not going to miss this game for anything,” McEachern said.
Pickett, who came to the West Georgia program from Shaw High School in Columbus, overcame a career-threatening knee injury in 2009 and said it really taught him to savor every moment he’s been on the playing field since then.
“I try to tell the guys every day to treat every game like it’s their last. You never know when it’s going to be your last game. So wrapping up my time here at West Georgia, it’s kind of mind-boggling. But at the same time, I’ve played every game like it’s my last,” Pickett said.
This year’s senior class was part of a 2011 campaign that saw the Wolves finish 6-4 — marking the first winning season since 2005.
And while things haven’t gone as planned this year, the seniors note that the 3-5 record doesn’t truly reflect just how far the program’s come during their time.
“We’ve come a long way in just a short period of time. The record doesn’t indicate how much advancement this program has made. It’s literally just a different program. We’re surrounded by a qualified staff and everything just gets better. I wish I could be around to see what the future will be like,” said Youssif, who came to West Georgia from Clinton Township, Mich.
Dickey said the senior class has been instrumental in the program’s growth, as the seniors have proven to be positive role models on the field, in the classroom and around the community.
“I’m just really appreciative of their efforts, their contributions. They’ve been through a lot to get to this point, but they’ve persevered and really made a strong impact on our program,” Dickey said.
“I hope that they appreciate the time that they had here and have enjoyed it and can reflect back as it being a real positive experience. They’ve done awesome in school and have been exemplary in every manner. We just appreciate it very much.”
And with only two games remaining in their collegiate careers, this group is focused on leaving on a positive note these next two Saturdays.
“You want to go out with a win. Two wins would be nice these last two weeks. It’s tough. It’s been a tough year. There’s been a lot of ups and downs, but being a consistent leader is fun and it’s important to be leaving this place better than we found it,” McEachern said.
Though bittersweet, West Georgia’s 12 seniors will have their University Stadium swan song on Saturday, a moment they’ll be sure to capture in their hearts and bottle up for the rest of their lives.
“It’ll definitely be a little sad knowing it’s my last one. But I’ll be more amped to play because it’s my last time being out there with these fellas. The friendship, the brotherhood that we have here, it’s been really special,” Pickett said.