When the USF football team takes the field at Raymond James Stadium on Saturday against Pittsburgh, it will honor a senior class of 26 a class that has seen everything from big bowl wins and historic regular season victories to long losing streaks and a nightmarish final season.
Though the seniors will end their career with either 24 or 25 total victories the lowest four-year total in USF history it can also take pride in road wins over major opponents Miami, Florida State and Notre Dame, as well as a bowl victory over Clemson.
For one last game, USFs seniors those who have not been sidelined with injuries will suit up and take the field as Bulls.
Its really emotional just because its your last time putting on a Bulls uniform, offensive lineman Danous Estenor said. These five years have gone by so fast, just like this season has gone by so fast, but we have to try and go out with a bang.
While some players approach the game knowing the level of emotion, others havent had a chance to reflect on the magnitude of their final game.
I dont think its quite hit me personally yet, tight end Evan Landi said. But you start to reflect and think about how the years went by so quickly. I think after the game is when it will really hit me, but Im mentally preparing myself that its the last one.
Other seniors are approaching the game with the sense of pride and accomplishment.
Ill be very happy, and I think it will be a testament to what this program means to me and what is has done for me, linebacker Sam Barrington said. My family and friends will be there and it should be really nice. Ill definitely have a smile on my face.
Barrington said the mix of emotions and motivation could create a level of production that fans have not seen much this season.
I think there will be things that we do in this game, some positive things that will happen, and we will think where was that all year, he said. It will just come out on the field because it will be an emotional game and guys will be into it more.
Though the Bulls will honor all of their seniors, some will not be able to fight for one final victory at USF players such as quarterback B.J. Daniels and running back Lindsey Lamar, who were sidelined with season-ending injuries.
Its been odd because a lot of the seniors at key positions have been injured, Estenor said. So we havent been able to stay together and finish strong as a senior class, which is kind of surprising because this is the first year that something like this is happened to us. It was kind of a shock to see that.
While the senior class will not be able to call its final season a success on the field losing a school-record eight games with one game remaining Barrington said it was important to provide leadership to younger players.
I always try to be a good mentor to those guys and tell them everything that I know, he said. Because guys did that for me. Kion Wilson helped me out a lot and I still talk to him to this day, so I hope three or four years from now a guy like Tashon Whitehurst, Zack Bullock or Corian Hamilton is still talking to me.
As the Bulls prepare to play their final game of the season at 7 p.m. on Saturday against Pittsburgh the last matchup between the teams before Pitt leaves the Big East the team also looks to send off its seniors with a momentum-building and memorable victory.
The mantra and motto for the week is to finish off strong and to close out with the win and give the younger players something to build on, Estenor said.