Outside the Owls’ locker room inside FAU Stadium, a shoeless Tyler Matakevich walked down a white-walled hallway in his grass stained No. 8 white jersey and cherry pants.
With tape around his ankles, the senior linebacker fought back tears as his face and messy red hair could not mask his feeling of disappointment Tuesday night after the University of Toledo defeated Temple 32-17 in the Marmot Boca Raton Bowl.
The senior has been in the front seat of the roller coaster that was Temple football for the last four seasons.
As a freshman and sophomore, Matakevich and the Owls won a total of six games. This season, the team won 10 games for the second time in school history and reached the inaugural American Athletic Conference Championship game and a bowl game for the first time since 2011.
“Our kids know what it feels like to win now,” coach Matt Rhule said. “I had no idea how hard it was to get people to think something positive is going to happen at a place where you assume something bad is going to happen. Now we he have a positive feeling.”
Rhule’s squad will lose 19 seniors, including 11 on the defensive side of the ball—including Matakevich, the team’s leading tackler and defensive lineman Nate. D. Smith, the team leader in sacks.
The 11 seniors have combined for 412 games played and 1,405 total tackles.
“We’ll be a little inexperienced next year,” Rhule said. “We’ll have to count on some young guys, but at least those young guys have been part of a fun year this year.”
Losing 11 players from a defense that allowed 20.7 points per game, Rhule will rely on his incoming seniors to fill the void left by the graduating class.
Six of the team’s 10 leading tacklers will return in 2016 as well as 13 players who appeared in all 14 games this season.
“We set a standard, and now it’s their job to follow the process and keep everything going,” Matakevich said. “And I know they will.”
Junior quarterback P.J. Walker said he is looking forward to how three of the team’s returning defensive backs will fit into defensive coordinator Phil Snow’s scheme next season.
“I think Artrel Foster and Nate Hairston, both of the corners, and Delvon [Randall], he is a special guy,” Walker said. “He’s one of the guys that makes so many plays, and his ball skills is pretty good.”
Offensively, the Owls lose redshirt-senior wide receiver Robby Anderson, the team’s leading receiver.
After being dismissed from the university and missing the 2014 season, Anderson caught 76 passes for 939 yards receiving and seven touchdowns this season.
The unit also loses John Christopher, who caught 84 passes for 855 yards receiving and three touchdowns in his career, and Brandon Shippen, who accumulated more than 400 yards of total offense in his four years as an Owl.
With the departure of three of its top five receivers, the group returns redshirt freshman Ventell Bryant, who finished second on the team in yards receiving, and redshirt junior Romond Deloatch, who tied for fourth on the team in receptions.
“Ventell made big, big strides this season,” Walker said. “[Sophomore wide receiver] Adonis [Jennings] is going to be a great football player, and we still have Romond, [junior wide receiver] Keith Kirkwood and guys like that coming back. The receiving corp is going to be excellent.”
In total, Rhule and the Owls return 25 upperclassman from 2015’s 10-win team.
“It’s all on us juniors now,” Walker said. “We have to go out and compete at a high level and play the best football for the rest of our careers here.”
The team also returns 27 sophomores/redshirt sophomores, including defensive back Sean Chandler—who was one of five Owls to start every game in 2015—and 54 players from the freshman class.
Most of those 71 players were not with the team when Temple won two games in 2013.
“I think those young guys who haven’t been through that 2-10 season, they’ve seen our drive, our mindset and our mentality, how we do things,” Walker said. “They see that, they have to compete at that same level and practice at the same level.”
Michael Guise can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @Michael_Guise