TCNJ deals with unfamiliar foe: recent 3-game skid
Talk about a weird feeling.
TCNJ’s recent three-week skid embodies a number of variations of the term. It’s weird in the literal sense, for certain a digression from what you’d hope to experience over the course of the season. It also reflects irony, a stark contrast from an early-season span—in total, three weekends—during which the team stomped out its opposition and its history.
But above all, the Lions’ three-game losing streak invokes an unfamiliar culture-shock to the program, one that hasn’t faced a similar period in, you guessed it, three years. Excavating recent memory, you’d have to look all the way back to the 2006 season, during which the team dropped consecutive games from October 21 until November 4, before it finally ousted the long-unwelcomed guest a week later (def. Kean, 14-10).
Needless to say, it’s tricky for everyone involved.
It poses a predicament for coaches, striving to maintain team cohesion—not to mention prepare their players for this weekend’s pending challenge.
You know. The games it hasn’t yet played?
“It’s not easy,” defensive coordinator Matt Hamilton said over the phone. “I would say when you go through a stretch like that, players and coaches get frustrated much quicker and much easier. You’ve gotta make sure you’re not letting the little things blow over and set you off.”
Now in his second year wearing Nokia headphones on the Lions’ sidelines, the former TCNJ specialist insists team unity exists as a cure-it-all elixir for this or any struggle bound to arise over the course of a season.
“If everybody stays together, morale stays high. When you’re together, you’re on the highs together and the lows together. It’s when you get frustrated and start bickering about the little things that everything falls [apart].”
His father, perhaps minimally more tenured in Trenton, suggests that even the most effective means of treatment is a misallocation of ever-so-precious time.
“You don’t,” said head coach Eric Hamilton, his quipped response to the raised notion of any prospective difficulty. “You can’t drive a car looking in the rear view mirror. What’s happened has happened. That’s like me telling you, two weeks ago, a team we almost put into overtime is playing for a conference championship. Montclair State. You can’t worry about what could have been or what might have been. You have to worry about what is.”
Now in his 33rd year, Hamilton, Sr. has seen his fair share of…well…anything and everything a parodied college football season might offer. But, resurrecting the mentality of his former Division III All-American self, he’s well-versed in the language spoken in any true competitor’s internal monologue.
“If you’re an athlete, when you put the helmet on and the pads on, you know you’ve got ten opportunities to win. This is opportunity number nine coming up. You don’t worry about the last game, or the next game. You worry about this game. That’s where the pride factor comes in. If you put on blue and gold, you play each game to win. Regardless of what your record has been or what it might be. You play that game.”
The ones playing now said they feel about the same.
“It sucks,” said Drew Mason, a starter on the Lions’ offensive line. “But every week you wanna go out and win. Your focus is still the same. Losing sucks, and there’s not a whole lot you can do about it during the week other than going out there and working hard.”
Now, in the waning moments of his fourth year, Mason can recollect feelings from his earliest memories with the program—that 4-6 season years past.
He says there’s not much difference.
“It’s always tough. No one likes to lose.”
Mason, however, doesn’t hold the only subscription to that school of thought. Other faces around the TCNJ locker room spoke in a similar tone, regardless of familiarity with such a daunting perpetual hangover.
“I’ve had the same situation in high school, so I guess I could say I’m used to it,” said cornerback Dean Misura, experiencing much of the same his third year at Holmdel high.
After an internal dispute among members of the school’s athletics department, the program’s entire coaching staff refused to finish out its 2005 season. With local Pop Warner coaches helping out as canisters of volunteer spackling, Misura and his then-teammates experienced a winless drought—lasting the remaining four dates on the schedule.
“Obviously it’s different here, and I like to notice how the players react. Some people are down, but it seems like for the most part everyone has their own way of keeping their heads up and getting at it in practice.”
Based on what he believes is a proper prescription, the observation reflects what he would hope to see.
“You try to not let losing effect you—how you play, how you feel mentally. Everyone has a bad day, [stuff] happens, you gotta pick yourself up emotionally and just get ready for the next week. Ultimately I guess it hurts, it might bring you down a little bit.”
Hailed more regularly for his play on the Lions’ special teams than as its back-porch poet of philosophy, Misura managed to mold the scenario into a breeding ground for unlikely benefits.
“But you could look at it another way. It might make you stronger, it might make you more mad—that you wanna just get at it. You’ve got less to lose essentially.
“You just want to give it everything you got next week.”