While I was leaving the University of Delaware last weekend, I was reminded that at one point this year, Richmond was ranked in the top five in the nation. After the team's seventh straight loss, a loss that wasn't as close as the 24-10 score indicated, it was easy to forget that fact.
That's what a winless in-conference record and two close wins against inferior teams will do to you; it will cause you to forget how good this team could have been. Those early season good vibes were cut short by a combination of inexperience, injuries and more mental mistakes than someone who crammed for a calculus final.
What shouldn't be forgotten, though, is the impact that some of the seniors made this year.
Although I'm not a Mixed Martial Arts fan, I've seen fighters take fewer knocks than quarterback Aaron Corp has taken this year. The past three games, he's left the game with an injury. Last week, he sat out just one play after taking a blindside hit that looked like it could have done serious damage. But there was Corp a quarter later, hitting wide receiver Tre Gray along the sideline for a 38-yard touchdown that gave Richmond a small sliver of hope for a comeback.
Gray has put together one of the greatest seasons by a wide receiver in Richmond history this year. It started early with an eight-catch, 129-yard outburst against Duke and he has since set the school record for career receiving yards and catches. With 13 more yards, which should come on his first or second catch, he will also set the record for most receiving yards in one year by a Spider.
The past two weeks, Gray has dealt with an injured leg. In a season when many of the key players have missed large chunks of time, Gray has emerged as Richmond's best play maker since possibly Leland Melvin.
It's no secret that the offensive line has struggled this year, giving up 31 sacks, or that the team has one of the worst rushing attacks in the nation. Amid all the turnovers and youth among that unit are two seniors, Ryan Goss and Richard Muldrow, who have started every game the past two seasons. Their production may not earn them a spot on the all Colonial Athletic Association team, but their durability has to count for something.
Then there's tailback Garrett Turner. His statistics have fallen off each year since he was forced to play as a true freshman in 2008, but it's hard to forget his touchdown catch in the National Championship game. The image of him being hoisted by tight end Joe Stewart after that catch is one of the best images to come out of that game.
On defense, there are a pair of seniors who have had their season cut short because of injuries. After not seeing much playing time his first three years, defensive tackle Corey Jackson finally got into the starting lineup and was named team captain. When an injury knocked him out for multiple weeks, he returned only to be injured again, which is difficult to see happen to one of the nicest guys on the team.
Cornerback Tremayne Graham deserved better than having his senior year end prematurely because of an injury. After playing in the shadow of future NFL cornerback Justin Rogers, Graham became Richmond's top corner before a leg injury in the final minutes of a blowout loss against the University of Massachusetts on a cold, rainy October Saturday ended his season. If there's any solace in his injury, it's that it occurred on a play when Graham broke up the pass.
The lone senior starter on defense not to have missed a start has been safety Colin Pehanick. His two interceptions lead the team this year, and last week he channeled his inner "Eric McBride versus Appalachian State" to hold up a UDel wide receiver to force a fumble. He has quietly had an impressive year and is currently second on the team in tackles (84), tackles for loss (6.5) and sacks (two).
Other seniors have helped the team out also. But in a year when injuries got so bad that true freshman Justin Grant--who earlier this year played running back--had to play some defensive back last week, these eight players stand out. Most, if not all, of these players will be playing their final football game Saturday.
I'll be the first to admit that the season has been frustrating to watch, but that should not diminish the impact that the seniors have had.