It’s a senior year for the history books. The year 2020 has thrown a lot at us all – the COVID-19 pandemic, the push for social change, a drawn-out presidential election and the anxiety that comes with a high degree of uncertainty. The 16 Concordia University Football seniors and their teammates have not been oblivious. As those seniors wait to be recognized prior to kickoff on Senior Day Saturday, they have prepared themselves for something greater than football.
Prior to each home game this season, Head Coach Patrick Daberkow’s squad has publicly showcased its unity in the form of a special video message – “Follow Us.” Several seniors have played a significant role in making this powerful statement – but some things require more than just words.
A member of the Marine Core Reserves, senior Trevor Dey has given a face to what leadership looks like. Says Dey, “Knowing our football team has a very diverse background, we don’t want to ignore real world events that are happening. We want to acknowledge these things and use the platform that we have. We want to do it in the most respectful way possible. I believe we found what we needed to do as a team and made it happen.”
Senior day can be about what has been accomplished on the field, but it is often more about the relationships that have been formed while providing a glimpse at what may become of a group of young adults. Dey and fellow senior Chase Hammons (Nebraska National Guard) are passionate about their involvement in the military. Among the seniors, aspirations include hopes of becoming dentists, laboratory scientists, software engineers, physical therapists, coaches and police officers.
They want to be in positions to make a difference in their communities. In the face of social unrest and given the awareness of people struggling from ailments both physical and circumstantial, these Bulldogs tried to figure out ways to help.
“This summer when all these events were happening we met at Coach Daberkow’s house and just talked,” Hammons said. “We just talked and listened to each other. It was great to have the opportunity to do that. As teammates, we can talk civilly and hear each others’ sides. It helps to have that melting pot in the locker room and this understanding of where everyone is coming from. Everyone’s from all walks of life and we’re all brothers.”
In terms of on-field production, receiver/punter Lane Castaneda has been one of the standouts of this particular class. The San Antonio, Texas, native took a chance on Concordia and has reaped the rewards. He plans to attend physical therapy school following graduation. It won’t be easy to say goodbye when that time comes.
“Being part of Concordia Football means being part of something bigger than myself,” Castaneda said. “Being on the team has given me and my teammates the opportunity to become better individuals and better leaders in many aspects. All the values instilled in us from the first day on the team to now have helped us grow as individuals and personally made me a better man and more prepared for life after college. If I weren’t part of the Concordia Football team, I’m not sure I’d be getting a degree, let alone looking into graduate programs.”
As for Dey and Hammons, they shrug off what they experienced during intense military training periods. Dey will tell you it’s really not that bad. Dey has served two separate three-month stretches of boot camp in California, but he was always fed well and given time for eight hours of sleep per night. One of the most challenging aspects of these journeys is the isolation from the rest of the world.
Hammons spent 20 weeks at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., for Military Police training. The training began in January 2020 and lasted through the spring semester. That meant Hammons had little knowledge of the COVID-19 pandemic while immersed inside a bubble of sorts. However, even Fort Leonard Wood would be impacted by the health crisis.
“I was probably 10-11 weeks into my training when COVID hit so I had no idea what was going on,” Hammons said. “One day they came in when we were all packed together on the range. They told us that we had to be six feet apart. It was completely foreign to us. We had been packed in classrooms and on busses for the past 10 weeks. When we got to the dining hall and every other chair was up, we started to put the chairs down because we didn’t understand the whole concept. Once we started to hear about the death tolls it sounded like the world was ending outside our bubble.”
The football program and Concordia as a whole have accommodated student-athletes like Dey and Hammons when they break from school to pursue their worldly passions. There’s growth that occurs when people with such varied experiences come together in one locker room. This 2020-21 senior group represents six different home states. There is much more diversity when the complete roster is broken down.
The senior class includes a three-time first team All-GPAC linebacker in Lane Napier, one of the best defensive players in program history. It also features fullback Chevy Stout, a name that went viral when the Grand Island native was dubbed “America’s Fullback” by Barstool Sports. Among the seniors, Castaneda, Dey, Hammons and Jorge Ochoa each took part in the video presentation aimed at unification.
Says Castaneda, “Preparing a statement about our stance as a team on the ongoing social issues was extremely important because our team runs on chemistry. We wanted to make sure we all saw eye-to-eye on the issues and make both our locker room and Concordia a safe place to discuss difficult topics and find unity in our differences. Our team represents a large variety of backgrounds … We felt that if all these guys can come from all over the country and become one unit, spreading our message was much needed.”
Of course the seniors are thankful for each other – and for the opportunity to play football this fall. They aren’t taking for granted the fact that they are getting to do something they love while some other college athletes have been sidelined.
Hammons has blossomed as a senior and leads the team with five sacks. Says Hammons, “We’re blessed to be able to keep playing. This is something you wouldn’t imagine would ever happen. You think about how hard you’ve worked the last three years to get to this point and then something unforeseen happens. I feel for those people who may not get a season. We’re so lucky to be able to do what we have been. Hopefully we can finish the season out strong.”
No matter the end result, none of the seniors will ever forget the circumstances that have clouded over the 2020-21 academic year. It would be easy for some to see the negative, but the Concordia Football seniors have put things in a different light. This year has provided an incredible opportunity for personal growth.
Added Dey, “It’s important to show we are more than just a football team. We bring other aspects off the football field. At the end of the day, that’s what we’re going to take away – what we’ve learned and who we’re becoming.”