MOUNT VERNON — The seniors on the Mount Vernon High School Yellow Jacket football team are used to getting knocked down. They are also just as accustomed to getting up off the ground with the help from an outstretched hand of a teammate and friend.
Many of the 14 seniors have been playing football together — on the same team or on opposing teams — since they were 8 years old. This history has not only allowed them to develop and grow together into young men, but also into skilled athletes who feed off each other on and off the field.
Throughout the years, new players were added to this mix of student-athletes, bringing new talents, a renewed passion and new personalities into the fold. Today, they are one of the tightest groups of seniors who encourage, support and rally around each other regardless of the scoreboard.
“I’m glad to be playing with this class,” said Ceth Miller, center and defensive line. “I don’t think I could play with any other class but these guys. It’s football, no matter what coaches we have. I’m just glad we could all play together.”
Miller’s sentiment holds true with the other seniors, as many noted it is their friendship that has carried them through a season of inconsistency.
“This year is special because I’ve been friends with them for eight years now, and I just have a bond with them,” said Steven Shannon, running back and linebacker.
“What I like most about football is being with my ‘brothers,’” said Ryan Goetzman, tight end and defensive line. “I have grown so many friendships through the six or more years I have played together with my class.”
This brotherhood is evident in the amount of time they spend together outside of school and practice. Two-a-days were more enjoyable with poker nights and most Friday nights they are found together unwinding after the game watching videos on YouTube, playing video games, reliving the plays and penalties of the night, and enjoying each other’s company.
“We genuinely like each other and we want to spend time together,” said Will Lawson, safety and wide receiver. “That really makes us stronger as a team. This year has gone by so fast already that we have to make the most of this time in our lives, in and out of football.”
The 2-7 record of the 2011 Yellow Jackets is not the way to judge this team or their class, the seniors told the News. They want to be remembered as a class filled with an undeniable passion for the sport, an endearing sense of humor, and love and respect of each other.
“Not a single one of the seniors anticipated the year we have had so far,” said Jake Smith, slot receiver and cornerback. “I think its important that people understand how much work we put into this game. … All of us have been through a lot this year, and I doubt anyone is satisfied with this season, but we never give up. … Our talent level is so much greater than what the record will show.”
“We are having a great season friendship-wise,” said wide receiver CJ Atherton.
Shawn Maxwell started the season as a wide receiver after missing most of last season recovering from a concussion. The switch in positions was a welcome change.
“It was fun,” Maxwell said. However, he didn’t feel prepared to take on the role of quarterback in the new system during the opening game against Lexington.
“I got no reps at all at quarterback three weeks before the season started,” Maxwell said.
Despite the slow start, he has found a rhythm with his fellow seniors connecting passes to Leevi Stump, Fenton, Atherton, AJ Smith, Goetzman, Jake Smith and Lawson. He has also found his stride in adding positive yardage with his feet.
Offensive linemen Miller, Micah Cormier and Chad Clements are defining forces on the line that help open holes for running backs and defend Maxwell in passing situations.
“Linemen don’t get a lot of credit but the success of every offensive play rests on their shoulders,” said Maxwell.
Whether the team is on an upswing of confidence after a win, or downtrodden after a loss, this group of young men relies on humor to make a good situation even better or as a coping mechanism for uncomfortable situations. For those not familiar with the senior class, personalities deeply rooted in inside jokes, the thrill of laughter and the spur-of-the-moment need to burst into song, make them appear as if they don’t take the sport of football, or their role on the team, seriously. In fact, the opposite couldn’t be more true.
“Coaches don’t understand the way we comprehend,” said Stump, running back and team co-captain. “They get mad about it but we turn it into a positive by having fun. Yes, we get mad (during the game), but the next morning it’s all a joke. We can’t stay mad at each other for more than 10 minutes. That’s how we deal with things. It’s never about staying mad at each other. Like Will, he can be a smart alec and you hate him, then two minutes later we are back to friends.”
In addition to more fundamental drills in practice, one aspect these players think is needed to make future seasons successful is a more motivated lifting program.
“A lot of kids don’t lift because they are embarrassed they can’t lift a lot, so they just don’t,” said Maxwell. “I was like that in my sophomore and most of my junior year, so I just didn’t lift.”
Now, Maxwell said, he has gained confidence in his own strength and enjoys working out with his friends and teammates.
“It’s kind of just drags on,” said Chad Clements, offensive line and co-caption, about lifting. “I kind of like it but sometimes I feel like I’m not getting anything out of it.”
Regardless of any suggestions the seniors might have to improve the football program, this week like every week, they remain focused on Friday night’s competition.
The Yellow Jackets will host the Eagles of New Albany during Friday’s season finale and the seniors are prepared to give it everything they have, leave it all on the field and have fun playing together one last time.
“Playing to win takes care of itself when you are playing to have fun,” said Jake Smith.
“I want us to have a victory on Friday and to have fun,” said AJ Smith, wide receiver.
Senior night festivities will begin at 6:50 p.m. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m.