AMHERST – Mark Lusic said his emotional good-byes in front of just about the entire Amherst community and a state-wide television audience.
One by one in some cases, and in small groups, the Amherst football coach gave his seniors a chance to enjoy the spotlight as they walked off the turf at Camp Randall Stadium under the glare of the lights.
The usually stoic Falcons coach stretched his arms out and gave every one of the seniors a massive hug as Lusic wrapped his arms around each player.
Tears were welling up in his eyes. While pools of tears could be seen rolling down some cheeks.
“This is just a special group. The attitudes and quality of people is what makes them different,” Lusic said. “Top to bottom, they are a joy.
“I love them all, I really do,” he said. “They’re fun to be around and I can talk to them all and just chat in the hallways. It’s their personalities, I truly get along with all of them.”
Lusic remembers opening night of the 2013 football season like it was yesterday.
A talented, but untested collection of sophomores were thrust into the starting varsity lineup for the season opener with Rosholt.
“They looked like a bunch of deer in headlights,” said the Amherst coach of the performance in a 26-0 win over the Hornets.
The decision to throw the sophomore class into the fire was more out of necessity rather than choice after graduating a large senior class from the Division 5 state championship team in 2012.
It was the beginning of what would become an unique connection the Falcons coaching staff felt for the entire senior class.
Defensive coordinator Doug Spadoni expressed his feelings prior to their opening playoff game against New Holstein on Oct. 23.
“I went in (the locker room) and told Bennie Gutschow I loved him,” Spadoni said. “I told him, ‘I just want you to know this might be our last night together, it might not. I just want you to know you’re special, and you’re one of the best I ever had.’
“They’re such high-character guys, that’s the thing, and so they were easy to coach,” he said. “Sometimes you had to get on them, but not like other teams. They got down to business and never stayed in a funk very long.”
The senior class for any coach each season usually holds a special place in their careers and memory banks.
Lusic has seen them grow from wide-eyed, impressionable sophomores with no concept of what it took to compete at the varsity level into the heart and soul of a Division 5 state championship team.
“I enjoy all my senior classes, but this collection of seniors, and there are 15 of them in this group, is really special,” the head coach said. “They’re just fun to coach, they really were.”
All you need to see are all the smiles and laughter among the players on the practice field to see the feeling is mutual.
The interaction between player and coach is genuine even if there is some screaming involved on the coaching end.
“It’s very demanding, but at the same time it’s awesome being around the coaches and so fun being out there on the field,” senior linebacker Austin Boelte said. “It’s a respect thing. They respect us a lot and we respect them a lot.”
Senior defensive back/wide receiver Amaziah McCall echoed those sentiments. “I love these coaches.”
As seniors the class rewarded their coaches with a state championship trophy three years later after that inauspicious debut against Rosholt, making them even more special, if that’s possible, in the eyes of their coaches.
Scott A. Williams can be reached at 715-345-2282, or on email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Find him on Twitter as @SPJScottWill