A closer look inside the Denison Big Red football program

JACK WHITE JR., Staff Writer—Throughout the duration of this semester, I’ve had the privilege of getting to conduct senior research for the Denison Big Red football team. I want to emphasize that this is more than just a team or a program. Rather, it is a family. Below is an excerpt from my project.

A surprisingly crisp September evening for college football under the lights at Deeds Field-Piper Stadium on the campus of Denison University. Fans organizing the ultimate tailgate. The aroma of cheeseburgers and hot dogs rising off the sizzling grill, while all of the condiments (ketchup, mustard, relish, and mayonnaise) are laid out on a worn down white table with graffiti art covering every square inch. Students drinking Natural Light like it was their job as the sweat from their beer cans drip steadily onto their koozies. Parents playing corn hole, while listening to rap music, singing along as if they actually know the lyrics. 

As the night grows older, the temperatures began to plummet, forcing spectators to cover themselves with winter coats and cotton blankets. No fan or athlete was able to speak without the thick fog of one’s breath being released into the midst of the night. But that was not going to interrupt the importance of this North Coast Athletic Conference (NCAC) matchup for the Big Red.     

Week 4 of the 2018 campaign. The Denison Big Red were heading to war with their arch rival the Wittenberg Tigers. Wittenberg taking the field with a roar of boos coming from the passionate and vocal Denison student section, as they sit on piercingly cold metal bleachers. The Tigers numbing their minds with silence to keep themselves from losing focus. As the Tigers cleats hit the turf, they began doing burpees and position drills, but in the distance came a steady and intimidating march all in unison, led by Senior Captain, quarterback, Canaan Gebele and Head Coach Jack Hatem, in his 10th season at Denison. Before taking the field, each player expresses their dedication, humility, and love for the Denison football program by touching the Woody Hayes rock. 

 According to Head Coach Jack Hatem, graduate of Rio Grande University and has been coaching since 1983, this rock that stands between the locker room and the field suggests tradition. But not only tradition, it signifies being all in for Denison football. There is a ton of meaning attached to this rock and as a program we are proud to have something that truly symbolizes all of our hard work and admiration for this football program. 

Now beginning the 4th overtime. Out on the field the Big Red stood their flat footed with exhaustion on display. Hearts were beating at a rapid pace, cheeks were turning red, and muscle and psychological fatigue became apparent. Currently leading the Tigers 66-60, with a lot on the line in the NCAC. Tigers with possession of the ball and it is 3rd and 6 from the Big Red 10-yard line. At this point, not one spectator in the stands was sitting. Everyone on their feet, stomachs turning into knots, nails being chewed down to the quick, and all you can hear in the stadium is pure silence. 

“BREAK!”

As the Tigers break the huddle they become set at the line of scrimmage. Quarterback Jeff Kennedy hikes the ball, scrambling around in the pocket and connects with wide receiver Thaddeus Snodgrass for the 10-yard touchdown. Following the touchdown, the tigers were able to convert on the 2-point conversion and walk away with a stunning victory, but a gut wrenching loss for the Big Red. 

When walking back to the locker room, these young men were heartbroken after such a superb effort. Harrison Hartong, ‘20, an economics major with a political science minor from Wheeling, West Virginia, says ultimately we are a brotherhood. This program exhibits family and no matter the circumstances, at the end of the day we all have each other’s back. 

Now, with the 2019 season underway, the Denison Big Red stand at 3-1 and are focused not only on winning, but being an example of a strong communal football program.

Coming off the heels of a convincing 42-7 conference road win over Allegheny, the team has their sights set on Oberlin for a home game on Saturday, October 12 at 3 p.m.

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