Saturday was the last time I strapped on my pads, buckled my chinstrap and laced up my cleats for the Big Green. Yes, we have one final game at Princeton University this week, but I will most likely be in sweats, as I'm not usually active for road games due to the NCAA player limit.
If you would have told me when I was a freshman that I would not be on the travel squad as a senior, and that I would be playing cornerback instead of wide receiver, I probably would have knocked you out. Football was everything to me, and there wasn't a day that went by when I wasn't working to perfect my craft.
I'm not going to lie to you and say that I wouldn't change a thing about my athletic career. I have met some amazing people, learned invaluable life lessons and made friends whom I will be close with for the rest of my life. But if I said that everything went according to plan on the field, I would just be lying to your face.
Here I am, though. I'm not that wide-eyed freshman anymore. Rather, I am everything that I deemed impossible when I first put on my No. 89 jersey for the green and white. Now, I rock No. 45, and I'm known as Vann Island.
When it comes to football, and actually life in general, my outlook has always been to live in the present and not think about what could have been. Sure, I wish I hadn't pulled my hamstring three times freshman spring, but when I returned to campus this August for my final preseason, my mindset was simple have fun.
I did have one goal, however, and I'll admit it was a bit selfish record a statistic and get in the box score. Although I saw playing time with the varsity team in half of the games last season at wide receiver, I didn't record a catch. I knew this season was my last chance, and I at least wanted to get a tackle so I could one day tell Mini-Vann, "Hey, your dad actually did play."
The goal was realized in our first game of the year against Butler University. One of the Bulldog receivers had no idea what he was getting himself into and lined up across the field from the Island, allowing me record the first tackle of my varsity career.
That said, in no way was this moment the fondest memory of my experience as a Dartmouth football player, or even this season for that matter. Football is a team sport, and the things that I will cherish the most are the moments with my teammates, where all of our hearts beat as one.
Like when we beat Columbia University on Homecoming of our freshman year. It was pouring rain, and all of my extremities were numb, but I couldn't have cared less. It was Dartmouth's first football win in two years, which snapped a 17-game losing streak. I'll never forget the tears coming down the upperclassmen's faces or the twinkle in each coach's eye.
It's crazy to think that just four years ago, Dartmouth football was coming off of a 0-10 season. Look at us now. Look at the type of talent that takes the gridiron every Saturday. Hell, if I were trying to get recruited now, I probably wouldn't stand a chance.
We have speed. We have strength. But most importantly, we have character. Now we expect to win, and that's where I think this senior class comes into play. Of the 22 starters on offense and defense, only about eight are seniors, but what you don't hear when the starters are announced during pre-game is who is contributing on special teams or who's getting the team fired up on the sideline.
The process didn't happen overnight. It took hard work. It took perseverance, brutal offseason workouts and 5 a.m. mat drills, and these are the times I remember because we were all in it together.
Football isn't my whole life. I don't categorize myself as a Dartmouth football player first. I take an immense amount of pride in it, but I also take pride in this column, my academics, my fraternity, and most of all, being a member of the Dartmouth community. All of that, though, would not have been possible without football.
Football opened so many doors for me. I will never stop thanking the coaches who recruited me and helped shape me into the person I am today. I have played my last game, but I will never cease being a Dartmouth football player. What I have learned through this experience will never be replaced. As I said earlier, I do regret not having the type of athletic career I anticipated, but I will never regret the choice I made a little over four years ago to become a Dartmouth football player.