Bucknell proving rest of league wrong

Kurt Ritzman, The Daily Item, Sunbury, Pa.
·4 min read

Apr. 17—When the Patriot League released its preseason football poll earlier this spring, Bucknell was predicted to finish in sixth place — out of six teams.

"We've always known how the league viewed us," Bucknell senior linebacker Rick Mottram said, "but we knew what we had. They didn't know how hard we were working or how practices were going.

"We've been underdogs for four years here. Any time we get to go out on the field and show what we're about, it's a good opportunity."

The Bison started their season by sweeping the other two teams in the South Division to earn a spot in today's title game opposite defending league champion Holy Cross.

"We're not doing too bad for a last-place team," Bucknell senior linebacker Simeon Page said with a laugh.

The seeds for Bucknell's breakthrough season — which has it a win from the program's first league title since 1996 — were planted during the 2019 season, Dave Cecchini's first as coach.

"Probably halfway through last season, I realized we had the potential to be really, really good," Mottram said.

Page said before the season started that the Bison's goal was to win the league title, which he admitted has been said every year he's been on the team. However, this season that goal felt more realistic.

"I believed it 100%," Page said. "I had a feeling last year — meaning the 2019 season — that it was going to be our time. We ultimately lost games that we should have won. We have a heavy senior class full of leaders."

So excitement was high as Bucknell entered its offseason, but then everything changed.

"The pandemic looms so large in what happened," Cecchini said. "We started out well with our winter workouts. We had a lot of experience returning. Then just before spring practice, the pandemic turned everything upside-down. Are we as good as we would have been? It's impossible to say.

"It's been more about overcoming obstacles. Even being able to play the game — something that was taken for granted for years — is big. It's been such a wild ride, a crazy 13 months. We've overcome so much to have a season, and we've had success to put us (in the championship game). The result has been the same, but the process has been very different."

Cecchini told his players that the team that handled the adversity of the pandemic the best would be in the best position when the next season came around.

"It's a testament to them rolling with changes and uncertainty," Cecchini said. "They've done a phenomenal job. Holy Cross would probably say the same thing. That's why we're playing Saturday and other teams might not be."

His players took that message to heart.

"Our senior group is full of great leaders," Page said. "We have four captains, but we have leaders spread throughout the team. We have a bunch of guys who are willing to do what it takes, without being asked. We've been asked to make several different sacrifices. Sure it's been hard, but everybody has been willing to do it."

Those leaders made sure that everyone was on the same page when it came to offseason work.

"Even if I wanted to slack off, it would have been impossible," Mottram said. "I had all the guys around me. The senior class was all pushing each other. We were all in contact, even when we were at home."

Page said the biggest message — especially among the seniors — was about avoiding the regret of not being prepared for a possible season.

"It's hard working for something when you don't know if you'll have the chance to play," Page said. "Something I thought about a lot is: 'What would I regret more — working hard and having it taken away because of circumstances outside my control or taking time off because I felt sorry for myself and then being able to play and not being prepared?'"

That spurred the Bison into working through the offseason, even when the prospects of getting to play seemed bleak. That work paid off when the team began preparing for this fall season.

"I saw the hard work that everybody put in," Page said. "When we came back and had our first team meeting, I knew it was our time."

Now Bucknell has a chance to do something that the program hasn't done in 26 years.

"I'm really excited," Page said. "A couple of weeks ago we were not sure we'd get to play any game. Now we're playing in the most important one."