For maybe the first time in his life, Matt Brown had trouble speaking his mind.
The senior running back, always an honest, abrasive interview, was trying to summarize his four-year playing career to reporters after Temple’s season-ending loss to Syracuse on Nov. 23.
Brown wasn’t emotional after his last game; he tends to leave that all on the field. But when trying to compare his journey to the fluctuations of a heart monitor, Brown had a rare moment when he struggled to find the right words.
“It’s like that…what’s that little green monitor at the hospital?” Brown said. “When you’re living it’s going up, and when you flat line it’s going steady. It goes up and down. That’s life.”
Though he sat out his last game due to injury, Brown was a part of a class of 12 seniors who played in their final game at Temple in a 38–20 loss to Syracuse on Senior Day during Thanksgiving break. The loss marked the end to a polarizing 4–7, 2–5 Big East Conference season that some declare successful amid conference re-alignment and others call disappointing after the program’s most successful season in 30 years in 2011.
The season muddles the legacy of the senior class, which went to two bowl games but didn’t have success in the Big East. The class finished with 30 wins, one shy of the record set by the 2011 class. The class helped captured the first bowl win at Temple since 1979 in the 2011 Gildan New Mexico Bowl, but lost in the 2009 EagleBank Bowl.
Coach Steve Addazio said the class’ greatest contribution was the willingness to compete in the Big East this season on short notice.
“They were trail blazers,” Addazio said. “They took their senior year and had to come in with six months notice into this conference and they had to lay themselves down so everyone else could walk over them in the future. They cut a path and we’ll take that path and we’re going to grow on it.”
Addazio spoke of the development of his young team throughout the season. The Owls played 19 freshmen against Syracuse and played 15 freshmen per game on average. Addazio said the emphasis on the underclassmen will continue in the offseason.
“Tuesday [Nov. 27] will start the most difficult, most competitive offseason training program that’s ever been done here at this university,” Addazio said. “We are going to get going for the next season, and it’s going to be one rough, competitive, tough deal. That’s what is going to happen here.”
“It’s going to be harder. It’s going to be more of a grind,” Addazio added. “It’s going to be more of win/lose. We’re going to develop toughness. We’re going to get bigger and stronger. And they’re excited about it. They can’t wait for it.”
The offseason will not be without some major losses, however. Brown and senior running back Montel Harris move on, leaving a hole to be filled by an inexperienced backfield. Safety Justin Gildea, defensive end Marcus Green and offensive lineman Martin Wallace, captains on both sides of the ball, will graduate.
The Owls will also lose the program’s all-time leading scorer Brandon McManus, who has kicked every field goal at Temple since his freshman year and has handled punting duties for the past two.
“[McManus] was a great player here,” Addazio said. “He’s done tremendous things. We’re going to really miss him. He’s a playmaker. He’s a weapon. He’s a hell of a football player. He’s a bona fide Division I BCS football player.”
McManus, who will train in the spring and hopes to play professionally, said he and the senior class made it their mission this year to prove those wrong who thought Temple could never be competitive in the Big East.
“Everyone picked us dead last in the Big East, and it was definitely a rebuilding year,” McManus said. “The senior class was tough. It was a small group, but it was tight -knit. We knew what we had to do coming into the Big East to try to put Temple on the map.”
Brown and Harris developed an amicable relationship after initially butting heads about playing time. Brown earned the starting role before the season prior to Harris transferring from Boston College and warranting a large portion of the carries.
Brown said he opened up to his teammate at some point in the season and accepted his share of carries. Now, he calls Harris his “best friend” and the two plan to train together in Atlanta in the spring to prepare for the NFL Draft.
“[Brown’s] a unique person,” Harris said. “There’s not too many guys like him. I’m just glad I came here and was able to meet him. We have a great relationship.”
Addazio also singled out Brown as a senior who he’s built a relationship with. Addazio disciplined Brown when he first arrived at Temple, suspending him in Spring 2011 for getting into a verbal altercation with a teammate and an assistant coach, but the coach has entrusted the roles of running back, punt returner and kick returner to Brown during the past two seasons.
Addazio gave Brown perhaps the biggest hug of any of the 12 seniors on Senior Day.
“Matt and I have got a unique relationship,” Addazio said. “I believe in Matt and I’ve stuck with Matt through these hard times. Matt is who he is, and he’s a volatile guy who’s very competitive. But what I appreciate about Matt: He’s a competitor. I love competitors. I’m going to go the extra mile for these guys that go the extra mile on the field. Matt Brown and I have gone the extra mile.”
“When [Addazio] first got here, I learned a hard lesson,” Brown said. “Since then, I feel like we’re the same type of person. We always came together, then we’d get into it a little bit, but we’d come back together. It’s love. He knows that I’d run through a brick wall on that football field for him, no matter how angry or sad I was. When I go out there, I’m a soldier, and I think that’s what he respects about me.”
Addazio now has a full year to recruit to the Big East and a full offseason to prepare for the conference’s elevated talent level. A tall task for some, but Addazio wouldn’t have it any other way. He said he’s never felt more energized by a team in his coaching career.
“Does that mean we’re going to be 12–0 next year? Well that’s not what I’m talking about,” Addazio said. “But we’re going to grow. I like the reload. I really do. A year or two years from now, this team is going to be full of a bunch of good football players and in a really good place.”
Joey Cranney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @joey_cranney.