While each of the SIU football team’s seniors will don his Saluki jersey for the final time Saturday, the men hope the game will be treated like any other.
SIU (5-3, 4-3 MVC) was eliminated from playoff contention and a conference championship is also out of reach, but senior defensive end Eze Obiora said he wants to win the season finale against Western Illinois University as much as he would for a game with larger implications.
“I’m not one of those people that takes moral victories. I have to win,” Obiora said. “Even though it’s the last game, it’s not because I’m a senior. I just love to win because I am an athlete.”
The team starts eight seniors Saturday, and each has played an integral role this season. Obiora, who has 47 tackles and seven sacks on the year, has played only two seasons at SIU after he walked on at Purdue University in 2008 and then played two years at the College of DuPage from 2009-2010. Even with only a couple of years in Carbondale under his belt, Obiora said he has seen the development of a strong senior class.
“Everybody in the senior class has their own story,” he said. “(Defensive end) Kenny Boatright went to NAIA and then walked on here, and now he’s a superstar. (Outside linebacker Jayson DiManche) has improved a lot from last year and so has (defensive tackle Kayon Swanson). This senior class was vocal, but we also led on the field and in practice. The intensity was good.”
Coach Dale Lennon said he plans to make the days leading up to the final game seem as normal as possible so each senior can play to the best of his abilities.
“I don’t want to make that the main focus,” he said. “I think sometimes if you build up too much of the emotions of the game, you don’t play your best game. We’re not going to dwell on, ‘This is it. This is the last time that you’ll ever play.’ We’re going to say, ‘Let’s go out and have some fun here.’ That’s going to be more of the direction that we’re going to take through the week and just look at it as another opportunity to do well.”
Saturday will also be the Salukis’ Black Out Cancer game. SIU will don black jerseys that fans had the opportunity to bid on. those with winning bids gain the opportunity to put the name of a loved one on the back of the jersey to honor their battle with cancer. After the game, those fans get to keep the jersey. Fundraising efforts for the Black Out Cancer game raised more than $45,000 this year.
While Obiora and Lennon said they hope for the game to remain unaffected by the outside influences of Senior Day hype, freshman kicker Austin Johnson said the rest of the team wants to send the seniors off on a positive note.
“This game really means something for the seniors, so we want to make sure we are ready to go,” he said.
Kickoff is scheduled for 2:00 p.m.