I've been thinking a lot about you guys this year - about how high your performance ceiling is, how proud you made me last year at nationals by stepping up and playing balls out - and how much I miss being a Hodag in uniform (once a hodag, always a hodag - easy to remember when etched into one's skin).
One thing that may not have been incredibly visible this year and last is how big the Hodag alum community is, how much we/they care, and how truly lucky it is to be a part of a program like this. The funny thing is, there are probably 20+ alumni who are reading this right now - still too attached to the program to let it go completely - living completely, and utterly, vicariously through your travel arrangements, firey emails, and practice schedules. It probably sounds funny, but it's true... you'll know when you finally graduate (trust me, yes, it does all come to an end at some point) why we feel this way.
What I am driving at is that while many alumni did not make it to the alumni weekend (tip for next year - get it on the schedule 3 months in advance! the real world is unforgiving to semi-short notice), all alumni will be following your exploits. Whether you guys end up over-performing, under-performing, or a mix of both, I guarantee our "dark marks" as we call them will be burning red hot with Hodag Love this memorial day weekend.
When thinking about what kinds of stories would be the best to pass on via email a few days before nationals, I came up with the following - it probably will sound stupid and simple but it became our mantra for 2007 nationals and held onto it in 2008. While you guys are a different team of scary domina3tors (have you seen the look in Wiseman's eyes lately?!) and have to pave your own path, I think this lesson still holds true.
In 2005 the Hodags had sheer power and strength but couldn't seem to pull it together mentally to finish and close out games. This spawned the phrase "the last 20%" - never EVER quitting, slowing down, or getting complacent at ANY point in a game. We repeated this over and over and ended up posting a dominant 2006 season, with only 3 losses. One of those losses was in national finals which was awful of course. So close, but yet infinitely far away.
When the 2007 college series came around, Dan Heijmen and Matt Scallet (sorry Matt if this was just your idea) began a new mantra - The Hodags were to abide by the following directive: "It doesn't matter who we're playing. It doesn't matter what field we're playing on. It doesn't matter what game we're playing in, or who is watching. It doesn't matter what the score is. We're going to play wherever the observer tells us to, against whoever he tells us to play, and WE'RE NOT GOING TO STOP SCORING GOALS UNTIL THE OBSERVER TELLS US TO STOP. Nothing else matters in the end.
Just as Steve PreFontaine ran long after the finish line came and went, the Hodags do not aim to land at the finish; the Hodags aim to score 21 points before the other team makes it to half.
And it takes the entire team. Get fired up. Get crazy. Get that wild energy brewing and boiling so that by the time the D-line takes the field they will literally skull bang the other team before the first pull drops into the soon-to-be-victim's hands. And, if the O-line happens to start the game, give them the support they need to get the D-line out and go ape-shit.
Look, this is all you guys - don't try to be anyone else - not hodags 2003, not 2006, 2007, or any other year. The alumni will love you no matter how you perform out in Boulder, just don't be afraid - of success, of failure, of any other team who you may face.
Have fun and get ready to get intense - the next 5 days are going to come and go in the blink of an eye. So go put the finishing touches on that taper and visualize what you're going to do come Friday and beyond.
See you in Boulder.
I am sitting at work waiting to catch my flight to Boulder at 3:50pm, and all I can think about is how excited I am for you guys this weekend. I want to circle back and reflect on Nationals in Boulder last year. This is the first time I have really put words down on paper and shared my thoughts about the our battle to the championship, loss to Carleton is finals, and the emotions tied into all of it.
In typical fashion, our Hodag squad came out somewhat flat against Washington our first game at 10:30am on Friday morning last year. This is a continued trend that I want you guys to SHATTER this weekend in Boulder:
2008 Hodags vs. Stanford (W 15-13)
2009 Hodags vs. California (W 15-14… 3 breaks to win)
2010 Hodags vs. Michigan (L 12-14)
2011 Hodags vs. Washington (W 14-13)
Squeezing out a 14-13 victory over Washington, we got our blood flowing in time for our game against Florida one hour later. Our ability to get breaks early served huge in the game, and our offensive line was able to fend off a late push by Florida in a 12-10 victory. With that ever important win over the 1 seed in our pool, we lined ourselves up for a game with a Luther team on Saturday that was completely exhausted after a universe point victory of Florida the previous day. Our victory over Team Eric Johnson clinched the pool, and then allowed us to rest our starters and play our depth in our final pool play game against a UC-Santa Cruz squad. All of the ducks aligned perfectly for us to make a rested push into the Championship bracket.
In Quarterfinals, we faced a Harvard squad that had put significant mileage on their legs prior to entering our game. Our strategy in the game was to be aggressive. We took our shots deep, and our defense insisted on making them work up the entire field for any point they were going to get. We focused on minimizing the amount of time the disc spent in the backfield. Once the disc went to our cutters, we wanted to keep it there.
In Semifinals, we faced Colorado on their home turf. Colorado brought the most intense defense that we had seen all weekend. Our strategy was once again to stay aggressiveand jump on them early. We isolated our best matchups (Colin Camp and David Wiseman), and looked to kill on every opportunity. There is nothing more intimidating for an offensive line than facing a defensive squad that is going to run you immediately on a turnover.
In Finals, we squared off against our Carleton in a game like no one had ever experienced or watched before. In 50mph winds, an early upwind break by Carleton on their first possession appeared to create a mental roadblock for our team. While we had a few decent chances in the upwind end-zone, we were never able to convert.
For those returners on the team, immediately following our loss in Finals, I brought the team in for a huddle just before Carleton received their medals. I expressed how proud I was of our squad, and how I want everyone to remember the feeling of coming up just short. I don’t recall shedding tears or feeling sorry for myself. Instead, my attention immediately shifted to what that experience can do for the program and the returners in 2012. Not many players at Nationals in Boulder this weekend know what is feels like to lose in Finals. Your roster has 20 individuals who understand what defeat tastes like in bowl at Pleasant View during USAU National Finals. There is no other team that can match the desire for revenge and want to succeed this weekend.
Over the past decade, the pain and suffering of a 2nd place finish has lead to positive results the following season for the Hodags (and Carleton). Following a 2002 finals loss to Stanford, the returners led their team to the program first National title in 2003 over Oregon. Following a crushing finals loss to Florida in 2006, the Hodags shredded the competition in 2007 and earned the program’s 2nd National title over Colorado. In 2011, the Hodags came up short in a frustrating wind-driven Finals against a revenge driven Carleton team coming off a runner-up appearance the year before. The 2012 blood seeking Wisconsin squad with 20 returners lead the team back to Nationals and….
I want you to finish the story this weekend.
*Carleton runner-up in 2000, Champions in 2001. Carleton runner-up in 2010, Champions in 2011.
I invested so much love, passion, and energy into the Hodag program during my 5 years at UW-Madison, and that commitment to the team doesn’t end with my graduation. Whether it is refilling water, screaming my head off on the sidelines, or sharing perspectives with Hector as I watch the game, I will be doing everything in my power to help you accomplish your goal; our programs goal; this weekend.
Stay Aggressive. Expect the most out of yourself. Crush this weekend.
LET’S DO THIS!