How do you frame a portrait of goodbye to the seniors who have now a 50/50 shot to be the undisputed winning-est class in the history of Temple University?
You might include at least a little rain, symbolic teardrops from Heaven that come with the territory to bid a fond adieu to what has been the best four-year period for the school’s football fans.
Include a mostly gray day against a worthy unbeaten foe, and finish it with a win. Celebrate with a lot of high fives and smiles in the parking lot afterward.
That would be the most fitting celebration of these wonderful young men who have given their all to Temple University.
They say to be the champs you’ve got to beat the champs and UCF hasn’t beaten these champs yet, and hopefully won’t.
When you break football down to its essence, it’s all about making plays and that’s what this group of seniors has done for the last four years and five in the peculiar case of defensive end Sharif Finch.
That might be as a place to start this tribute as any because Finch was here—believe it or not—as a starting linebacker in Matt Rhule’s FIRST season. He sacked the Rutgers’ quarterback and that appeared to end the game with a Temple win but called for what film later showed was a bogus personal foul and kept that game-winning drive alive. (Hell, Finch should have never been placed in that spot because Rhule eschewed the quarterback sneak behind two future NFL players—quarterback P.J. Walker following center Kyle Friend—on a fourth-and-three-inch call. Instead, Rhule inexplicably called a five-yard deep handoff to fullback Kenny Harper which was stopped for a five-yard loss. With RU having no timeouts left and Temple the ball on the RU 20 with 1:02 left, four inches would have ended that game with a kneel down or two.)
Finch, now at DE, has been making plays for five years at Temple and four full ones and only two weeks ago was named the AAC Defensive Player of The Week for his effort in a 34-26 win over Navy.
In the play-making arena, fullback and linebacker Nick Sharga is right up there with the greatest playmakers in Temple football history.
Sharga was so much a part of the consecutive 10-win seasons that Rhule mentioned him (although not by name) in his introductory Baylor press conference. “We went to a pro-set at Temple because we had an NFL fullback,” Rhule said.
Baylor might not, but Temple still has for at least the next two games. Sharga will go down as the most versatile player in Temple history because he was the best linebacker on the field in a 34-12 win over nationally-ranked Memphis in 2015 even though the national defensive player of the year, Tyler Matakevich, was lined up next to him that day.
Temple hasn’t nearly used Sharga as much as it should this year and its success going forward could depend on how much it uses this most valuable asset in the next two games.
Still, there is more to this class than Sharif and Nick, so shout outs must go to players like defensive back Cequan Jefferson, who chased after and recovered a loose ball on the kickoff against Cincinnati last season; wide receiver Adonis Jennings, who became a star he after transferring from Pitt; kicker Austin Jones, who had a Temple school-record 19-straight field goals broken (also, at the time, the best of any FBS kicker) against Memphis last year. That was the game what he was the victim of a cheap shot. Also gone will be punter Alex Starzyk, who has been solid since debuting in a 37-7 win at Vanderbilt in 2014.
Other goodbyes go to long-snapper Corey Lerch, who played for LaSalle High in the best high school league in America, the Philadelphia Catholic League. Long-snappers are like officials. If you don’t notice them, they are doing a great job and, since I did not notice Corey, the only thing I can say is: Great job, Corey.
Keith Kirkwood, who made the most clutch catch in Temple history (against UCF) will be exiting stage left soon and that’s a pretty good memory to take to tailgates the next 50 years. Keith will never have to buy a brewski, that’s for sure.
Corners Artrel Foster and Mike Jones will also be missed. Foster was been steady and dependable while Jones was never the same player after being called for a bogus pass interference on a 50/50 interception that might have turned the Houston game around this year. It looks like that play took a lot of the natural aggressiveness out of Jones. They don’t call interference on 50/50 balls in the MEAC where Jones shined the last two seasons. Hopefully, he can leave Temple with a Pick 6 and a punt return to the house in the next few games.
Other seniors departing include linebacker Chris Smith, who is above the line for the first time this week, and offensive linemen Brian Carter, Leon Johnson and Cole Boozer. Carter was a defensive line starter in the 2014 game and gave up a solid career on that side of the ball to move to OL for the good of the team.
Defensive linemen Greg Webb and Julian Taylor will also be departing, homeboys and starters from each side of the river: Webb from Timber Creek (N.J.) and Taylor from Abington in Montgomery County.
There’s no crying in both baseball and Temple football, but if the skies open up and drop a symbolic tear or two on this senior day, that should be forgiven because it will be a sad day for all of us.
Sunday: Game Analysis