As the calendar flipped to October, UW-Whitewater’s senior football players had two options.
The Warhawks were 1-3, and the odds were long that those seniors would close out their careers with a long playoff run—or any playoff run for that matter.
So they could either rally together to leave the best legacy possible and put the program in good shape for the future. Or they could pack it in and call it a career.
On Saturday, the Warhawks will attempt to close out their season with a six-game winning streak. And much of the credit goes to the players who will be celebrating Senior Day in their final collegiate game at 1 p.m. against UW-Eau Claire.
“Truly amazing leadership,” Bullis said Wednesday. “To start our season 1-3, the group that that is toughest on mentally is the senior group, because this is their last season.
“I’ve been in programs where when those types of things happen, those guys can really react in not a positive way. These guys have done nothing but lead in an amazing way and focus on their team and the legacy they want to leave.”
Bullis pointed specifically to Mitchell Schauer, one of the team’s captains.
The senior offensive lineman was the most vocal when the seniors and the coaching staff met following a 37-20 loss to UW-Oshkosh that left UW-W at 1-3 on Sept. 30.
“Of our senior leaders, he (Schauer) is the leader of that group,” Bullis said. “He really jumped forward and spoke for the group. Walking out of that meeting, I felt awesome. I felt very confident we should be able to finish this season 7-3.”
The Warhawks will do just that if they can close out the season with a victory over Eau Claire, which is 1-8 overall and winless in league play.
Despite the potential six-game winning streak, however, it seems unlikely that Whitewater could get an at-large bid into the NCAA Division III playoff field.
There are just five true at-large bids to be placed into the DIII bracket, which will be released Sunday. The Warhawks were not listed among the top 10 teams in the West Regional rankings that were released Tuesday, which is not a good sign for a team needing an at-large bid.
Still, Bullis hopes his Warhawks are at least worthy of being in the discussion.
They’ve played one of the toughest, if not the toughest, schedules in the country. The teams UW-W has lost to—Illinois Wesleyan, Concordia-Moorhead and Oshkosh—have combined to lose just two games all season.
And if the Warhawks finish 7-3, they’ll be 6-1 and finish alone in second place in an always-rugged WIAC.
“Obviously we put ourselves in a position, where we lost those three games,” Bullis said. “So I’m not going to sit here and speculate, because it doesn’t get me anywhere and it doesn’t get our team anywhere.
“If there’s any potential chance of it, I hope the committee ... looks at three teams we lost (to). ... We played very good football teams. If we don’t make it in, we’ve got no one to blame but ourselves.
“But if they give us a chance to go out and prove what we can do and give us another game, that’d be pretty danged exciting.”
Making the playoffs hasn’t seemed likely for the better part of two months.
That hasn’t stopped UW-Whitewater’s seniors from closing out their careers in style.