August 30, 2010

10 games to watch for 2010

It was May of 1997. I had turned 50 that month and had just awakened from what I thought was going to be a routine colonoscopy.

I felt like I had been pancaked by a Mount Union lineman when the doctor told me I had a malignant tumor the size of a golf ball. Followed by the news that I would be looking at surgery (a colostomy), chemo and radiation.

My first thought was of my family. Most of my kids were still in high school. Would I ever get to watch them graduate from high school and college with my wife?

My second thought was of Kevin DeBonis. He had been a lineman at St. Lawrence. He had a bout with ulcerative colitis that withered his body. He had a colostomy, built himself back up, returned to SLU and, with a protective device over his colostomy and became the Saints' Lineman of the Year.

He was my inspiration through it all. I even received a letter from him when I got home from the surgery.

I figured if he could pay football with a colostomy, I sure as heck could write about it.

When I was diagnosed neither Castleton State or Husson even had football. Now, Castleton, my alma mater, boasts a football team and my daughter Virginia has graduated from Husson.

Football has always been special to me. That's why when I received the Contributor to Football Award from the Vermont Chapter of the National Football Foundation, it meant more to me than so many of the other awards I have received.

Football is personal. And a Division III football player helped me through one very tough time.

Now, every autumn and new season brings excitement and an unbelievable appreciation for life.

So let's get to it. Ten games to look forward to in the 2010 season. That, though, is just a sliver of the main course. Every game is special if it's your school; your team.

1. Sept. 3. Otterbein at Husson. The Eastern Collegiate Football Conference has a lot of work ahead of it to earn some respect. The fledgling league gets its AQ in 2011. Having a nationally ranked team come all the way from Ohio to Bangor, Maine, gives Husson a chance to strike a blow for the conference. Just keeping this one respectable would be a good thing for Eages and the ECFC.

2. Sept. 25. Wesleyan at Middlebury. There's nothing like an opener and the New England Small College Athletic Conference finally gets to play football after watching and reading about everyone else. The high interest game just might be the one that finds Wesleyan visiting Middlebury. Middlebury quarterback Donald McKillop already owns the record book and has Panther fans thinking about a very special season. But everything is fresh and exciting at Wesleyan with a new staff led by successful Williams coach Mike Whalen. This one is intriguing.

3. Sept. 25. Norwich at Mount Ida. Norwich and the Mustangs played in the ECFC championship game last year and are ranked 1-2 in this season's preseason poll. The Cadets have plenty of talent returning and so do the Mustangs.

4. Oct. 2. Trinity at Williams. This one might wind up deciding the NESCAC when all is said and done. The perennial powers figure to put on a show.

5. Oct. 9. Amherst at Middlebury. Amherst was undefeated in 2009. It's not inconceivable that both of these teams might be at this point.

6. Nov. 6. Curry at Plymouth State. When the New England winds turn cruel and the leaves have left the trees, big games are played. You can just about count on this being one of the biggest in the NEFC. These are postseason teams. And when they clash in this regular season finale, you can bet the stakes will be high.

7. Nov. 6. Castleton State at Norwich. The battle for the Maple Sap Bucket is one of the newer rivalry games but it is quicky gaining steam.

8. Oct. 30. Norwich at SUNY-Maritime. If the Ida-Norwich game isn't the one that settles the ECFC, this one will. Clayton Kendrick-Holmes has been building something special at Maritime and this could be the year everyone notices.

9. Oct. 30. Maine Maritime at Bridgewater State. The Mariners' triple option rolls into Massachusetts for the game that very likely will settle the Bogan Division of the NEFC. It is Maine's bruising ground game against the Bears' marquee back Justin Fuller. Could be one of those two-hour games. Yes, it could be quick, close and very, very important.

10. Nov. 13. Williams at Amherst. "The Biggest Little Game in America" is a mouthful, but it more than lives up to it. Crowds in the neighborhood of 10,000 are not unusual. That's especially the case when a league title is up for grabs. That's often the case. There is a reason why it still is the only Division III stop ESPN's GameDay has made.

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Tom Haley

A seven time Vermont sportswriter of the year, Tom Haley has been with the Rutland Herald since 1987. He was inducted into the Castleton State College Hall of Fame in 2004 and received the Contributor to Football Award from the National Football Foundation's Vermont Chapter.

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