Running back Jake Chisholm (No. 29, center) will be back in 2022 for the Flyers, but Saturday’s senior day game against Davidson (7-1, 6-0 PFL) at Welcome Stadium will be the finale for safety Brandon Easterling (No. 1, left) and quarterback Jack Cook (No. 10, right). Photo courtesy of Zach Merz, Flyer News.
Peter Burtnett | Sports Editor
Every year, senior day rolls around and coaches and players alike talk about the senior class going through a lot and accomplishing much along the way. For the 2021 Dayton Flyers football (5-4, 4-3 PFL) senior class, they have certainly been through a lot leading up to their final game against the conference-leading Davidson Wildcats (7-1, 6-0 PFL).
Though the record for fourth- and fifth-year seniors may not have achieved the levels of classes from the Mike Kelly era, current Flyers head coach Rick Chamberlin said the class has “showed the character and resilience of the young men that are in our program.”
“There’s teams within the PFL that said they had to play in the spring or they were going to lose players. And I never felt that way (about our seniors). I just knew they meant more to this program that just going out on a Saturday. And for players to suck it up and to go through all the mental anguish and emotions to come out and have the chance for a winning season, I think speaks to their character.”
One senior, team captain and safety Brandon Easterling, said his thoughts on his time at UD will be “more than it would any other normal senior class.”
“You reflect on all the things we’ve been through, and they always say the harder you have to work for something the sweeter the reward. And we’ve, especially for these past two years, we’ve had it put to us. So it’s going to mean a lot, just kind of thinking back, all the guys that banded together and stuck it out, stayed together. So it’ll definitely be a good day for us.”
Easterling added that this final week is “definitely an emotional roller coaster.”
“We’ve been joking that every season… has its ups and downs. We’ve never felt this before. (Our final game) is coming soon and it’s exciting. But you know at the end of the day we definitely want to cap it off with the win.”
For Easterling, although he might know this is his last week as a UD football player, it “hasn’t hit yet.”
“We’re going through practice, we’re going through everything, traditionally, like it’s just another week. But every once in a while at practice we’ll catch ourselves kind of talking like, man, that was the last time we’re ever going to do that, or that was the last time we ever do that. So in a way it does (feel like my last game). I think Saturday is when it’s really gonna set in.”
Fellow senior captain, quarterback Jack Cook, said he doesn’t try to think about playing his final game, but said “it’s definitely weird.”
“Knowing it’s your last week of the season, knowing this, as a senior, last week possibly ever (playing football). So I’m just trying to push it aside, but I know eventually it’ll hit me.”
Cook added that the last couple of years has had an big affect on the senior class.
“We’ve definitely been through a lot this season, not knowing if you’re gonna play here and they’re just certain games I mean, in 2020, we lost our season, come 2021 our first game was canceled for COVID. So we’ve been through a lot. We’re a really close knit group… all the seniors. I would just say our whole team’s close and we’ve grown a lot closer throughout everything we’ve been through.”
At halftime of Saturday’s game, the Flyers will also be giving out the Andy Zulli Memorial Trophy, the most prestigious award for UD football.
“The Andy Zulli award is our top award in our program because it’s the complete Flyer,” Chamberlin said. “Not just the MVP or the academic guy. It is the guy that does everything right on the field ,off the field in the classroom, all over the place and that’s hard (to choose) every year, because of the character of this team. We got 21 seniors and any one of the 21 could be named Andy Zulli. So to narrow it down to that one individual, that means that individual’s pretty special.”
Leading up to Saturday’s game, Chamberlin said he will have to “make sure the focus is right” as the Flyers go up against the Wildcats, who lead the Pioneer Football League at 6-0 (7-1 overall) and are the defending champions from the spring season. He also said “it certainly would” add motivation to beat the top team.
“For our guys, the disappointment of not being able to compete for a championship, but to knock off the one that is defending champ from the spring, currently undefeated in conference, that would be a great way to finish up the season.”
Recent momentum from a 38-31 home win over Butler followed by their “most complete game” of the season according to Cook in a 41-13 road win over Stetson push the Flyers into their season finale.
“It’s a huge boost,” Easterling said. “It’s something we’ve been talking about two games ago at the beginning of this three game streak. Coach Chamberlain told us, maybe a conference championship obviously isn’t able to be done, but we got three games and we want to stack up three wins. We want to build momentum into the next season, build momentum into the winter for the underclassmen. So it’s definitely a big deal for us.”
Easterling also said the team will “have to keep (their) emotions in check” and play “disciplined football” against the Wildcats, who run a version of a wing-t or triple option defense.
“Whenever you play a team like that it’s all about your assignments,” Chamberlin said. “You hear coaches say that all the time. People that have dive, quarterback, pitch man, but then you got to protect the pass. And the whole idea is people got to play their assignments, but then they got to run to the football. It’ll be that first few plays, I think will catch our guys because you can’t simulate it in practice. Our scout team does a great job, but that speed factor there but once you get adapted to the speed of the option and then you can execute.”
Running backs Coy Williams and Dylan Sparks have combined for 1,215 yards and 19 touchdowns, while quarterback Louis Colosimo has accounted for 721 yards yards and 10 touchdowns.
On defense, Chamberlin expects a basic defense from the Wildcats.
“They’re similar to us. They don’t play a lot of different coverages or fronts or anything, but they they read their keys and they get to the ball. They don’t make mistakes. They don’t get out of position. You may move the ball on them, but they’re not going to give up the big play. They’re going to make you earn every yard.”
Defensive end Jonathan Hammond leads the Wildcats with 47 total tackles, 10.5 for loss, 8.5 sacks, six quarterback hits, and two each of pass breakups and forced fumbles.
Saturday’s senior day game will kickoff at noon at Welcome Stadium as the Flyers look to send their senior off with a win against the Wildcats and build momentum into the winter.