The 'Cats, once up by 22, were now down six and desperately needing a classic two-minute drive to rescue their season opener at Syracuse. This was just the kind of moment savored by any competitor, just the kind of burden a true leader wants on his shoulders, just the kind of situation a swashbuckling quarterback relishes. Kain Colter is all of those thing, a competitor and a true leader and a swashbuckling quarterback, but here he proved himself to be something even more impressive than all that. He proved it my putting his team above himself.
This is not a common occurrence, certainly not common in this age of preening athletes who desire nothing more than to see themselves on some highlight show. But Colter, whose upper body was severely bruised after absorbing some hellacious hits, knew he couldn't effectively lead the drill that was now needed, and so he said this to his offensive coordinator Mick McCall. "I think," he said, "Trevor (Siemian, his backup) will give us a better chance to win."
"It's tough. It's tough," he will admit when asked how hard it was for him to say those words. "You want to be in the game. But at the same time if I go out there, and it's painful to throw the ball, and we're in the two-minute drill where we have to throw the ball, I'm not going to hurt my team by going out there if I'm not at 100 percent. And I feel Trevor, I have all the trust in the world in Trevor. So if I feel Trevor gives the team the best chance to win at that point, I had to make that decision. But you always want to be out on the field. You know. People made a deal that I got benched or something like that. No. At that point in time, I just wasn't able to go in there and throw the ball down the field as effectively as I wanted to."
A lot of guys wouldn't have done that, wouldn't have put their team ahead of their ego, we tell him. Why did he?
"It's just being smart. There've been a lot of situations, even in high school, when I've been dinged up and I tried to go in there, and you might end up making a mistake, or maybe you don't trust to throw the ball down the field and now you're going to take off and run. So, you've just got to know your body. When you're unable to do something, you've got to know yourself, and you've got to have trust in the guy behind you. I think that's the biggest thing. I knew Trevor could go out there and ball and make all the throws out there. So I had all the confidence in the world saying he might be the guy for this two-minute drill. At that point in time, I was just unable to do it and was trying to be smart about it."
It is rare, we now tell him, that a person can view himself so honestly. Has he always been that way, or is that a learned trait?
"I think the biggest thing is you can't let your pride get in the way. You know, a lot of guys, 'I don't want to go out of the big drive of the game.' Of course you want to be in there. But at the same time, you don't want to go out there when you're not 100 percent and hurt your team. So, at that point in time, like I said, I felt Trevor could go out there and make the throws I couldn't make because of the injury. If there's another situation like that, I'll definitely do the same thing."
And when Trevor does make the throw, what did he think as Demetrius Fields caught the ball and what did he say to Siemian after he authored that game-winning drive?
"A big, deep breath. We're finally on top. We've got to make the extra point, but," Kain Colter finally said with a smile. "Went out there and told Trev I'm proud of him, that was big time of him. The bottom line is we're all team. I know we play the same position and a lot of people might want to stir up a quarterback controversy. But as long as the team's winning and we're out there making big plays, whether it's me or Trevor, I'm going to be happy."
As for the 'Cats home opener Saturday night against Vanderbilt? "I'll be good to go," said Colter.
So Colter is one sight sure to been seen that evening. 'Cat head coach Pat Fitzgerald says there is another certainty as well. "I guarantee you," he says, "That (Vandy quarterback Jordan) Rodgers'll come after our corners on Saturday. We saw double-digit double moves (at Syracuse). Bring it. That's all I'm going to say. Bring it. These guys (his defensive backs) are going to keep getting better. We believe in them. They're just going to keep working to get better, and that's all you can do. I expect Vanderbilt to do it. Bring it. That's all I'm going to say."
"That's what you want as a DB. You can't make plays if they're not throwing the ball," one of them, the corner Demetrius Dugar, would later say. "So we want them to come out and challenge us. That's what you practice all week for, so you can come out and show what you've got on Saturday. So we look forward to it. We're always looking to make plays. I had a couple strikes on me this week (at Syracuse) with the PIs (pass interference penalties). But the mindset of our secondary this year is just stay aggressive. Stay aggressive. Always go for the ball. Keep yourself in good position. Be physical with the receivers."
Dugar, against the Orange, was aggressive and physical and often in good position, but too often he failed to play the ball. That is why the calls, close ones, went against him, and why we wondered if Fitzgerald gave his corner some kind of pep talk in their wake.
"I gave it to him on the boundary during the game," he said. "I said, 'Hey. What we talked about is happening. They're going to go after our perimeter, double move us and come after you. Just keep trusting your technique.' When he did, he was pretty darn good. When he didn't, we saw the result. . . But some things happen in the game you can't control, right? On the boundary, you've got to have an identity of understanding what happened, and then how we're going to fix it, and then how you're going to move forward. On the corner, you've got to have a short memory. You've got to learn from your experiences, but you've got to have a short memory because they're going to come after you again, and they did."
Did Dugar, as Fitzgerald likes to put it, lose his stinger during the game, or keep it?
"I thought he kept playing," he replied. "The two-point play, he comes out and challenges the heck out of that route. You know. So, no. Like I said, they threw double-digit double moves, and I think they completed one. That's because we slipped. So bring it. Let's go. We know what we're getting. It's no surprise to anybody."
"I went through a lot of stuff that night. Had a ball caught on me, had the PIs," Dugar himself would say minutes later. "But that's the biggest thing, stay aggressive."
So he didn't get tentative after getting hit with those penalties?
"No. No, sir," he finally said. "If anything, it made me want to play more aggressive. Especially coming off to the side, talking to my coach, he said he liked the way I was playing. He felt they were close calls. I felt they were close calls. Definitely, watching the film, I could have gotten my head around and probably intercepted two of them. So they were close calls. But when you're a DB, it's a hard world. Stuff like that happens, but you've got to stay aggressive.
"I watch the great cornerbacks, guys that are great to me now, like (the Eagles') Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and (the Jets') Darrelle Revis and some of the other guys. They might give up a touchdown and get a PI, but what separates them is they stay aggressive. They don't get lax and start playing soft."
* Another prominent performer Saturday was the linebacker Chi Chi Ariguzo, who set up the 'Cats second touchdown with a 49-yard interception return and then rumbled 33 yards with an Orange fumble to score a touchdown of his own. "We talked all summer about running to the ball, anything can happen," he said Monday when describing the former play. "We talked about the EAT principle (we'll explain in a moment), people taking chances and having faith teammates will be there to pick up the slack if they don't make (the play). I was there at the right time to pick the ball off and run it back a little bit."
On the fumble he said: "We always talk about picking up loose change. So I picked it up, but I was a little unsure if it was still alive or not. Then everyone was saying run, and I decided to run."
* The EAT principle? That is E as in Execute. A as in Attack and Aggressiveness. And T as in Trust and Tackling.
* The most-notable news on the 'Cat depth chart for its Saturday home opener against Vanderbilt is that true freshman Ifeadi Odenigbo is listed as the backup to right defensive end Tyler Scott. That job last week belonged to redshirt freshman Deonte Gibson, but he got dinged up against the Orange and will miss the Commodore game. ("We hope to have him back sooner than later," Fitzgerald said of him.)
Odenigbo was a high school All-American and rated by some services as the top prospect in both Ohio and the Midwest, yet he is raw and listed as a diminutive (for a defensive end) 220 pounds. That led to speculation that he would spend this year putting on some muscle. But Monday Fitzgerald said, "We told him (before the Syracuse game that) he was on the flight deck. Remember, I told you guys a week ago that we had quite a few guys on the flight deck. He was one of those guys, probably a bump or a bruise away from getting into the game. . . Now there's a hole there. We've got to fill that hole. We're always going to play our best 11 players and, right now, as we've watched Ifeadi progress, he's improving and getting better. He'll be in the rotation. . . He'll be better next week than he is this week. You think back, the first practice of the year, he went to the game field (Ryan Field) for practice. So he's come a long way already."