The dozen players on the 'Cats' Leadership Council settled around the table for their weekly Monday meeting with Pat Fitzgerald. These are normally 20-minute sessions and, during them, those involved discuss what's good with their program, what's bad with their program, what things could be done differently, what's important in the days ahead, even what uniform they wish to wear the following Saturday. But on this Monday, the first Monday of November, Fitzgerald simply walked into the room and said, "How's everybody doing? Any questions? Anything that I need to know that I don't know? Great. See ya tomorrow."
"I don't think I need to tell them a whole lot," he would later explain. "I think they get it."
"That's exactly what happened," quarterback Kain Colter, one of the Council members, soon avowed. "We all realize the opportunity that we have in front of us with these last three games and a chance of maybe even going to a BSC bowl if we win out and some things go our way. So we realize how big of a moment we're in right now and we're all going to try and make the best of our opportunity and keep going."
"Our Leadership Council meeting was the quickest it's been all year," defensive tackle Brian Arnfelt, another of its members, soon added. "I think when you get to November, there's no point talking. All the talking's been done. Everything's been said. You can't say anything that's going to change how you act, and it's really all about your actions. How you're going to execute on the field."
"It was the shortest Leadership Council meeting I've ever been part of. It was a minute long," concluded one more of its members, offensive guard Brian Mulroe. "It's pretty self-explanatory now. It's the tenth week of the season right now and we've just got to focus up. It's all about execution. Who's got better fundamentals when the time comes. It comes down to practice, preparing. We've just got to keep grinding."
The objective, always, is to have your games mean something when November rolls around. That is now certainly the case with the 'Cats, who open the month Saturday at Michigan. "It's the biggest game of the season because it's the first week of November. This is huge," says Arnfelt. "November is probably the biggest month. I've been here five years, I've seen teams win in November, I've seen a few things fall apart in November. I think this team's really equipped to do something good here."
"Once November comes around, everybody kind of plays a little bit differently," add Colter. "The lights get a little bit brighter. The games get a little bit more important. Everything just kind of goes up a notch. So I wouldn't say there's more urgency. I just think the intensity, kind of the hype around the games goes up. There's no playoff system in college football and every game matters. But especially in November when bowl games are being decided, when some teams are going to fall off and some teams aren't. Everybody's kind of in it right now and able to reach some goals if they're able to finish the season strong. It's all about finishing strong and when you do have a chance like the chance we have in front of us, sitting toward the top of the Big Ten, we're going to try and make the most of it. We're hoping to be a team that steps up to the occasion, makes the best of our opportunity and comes out of this year with no regrets."
"I would say everything's heightened. Urgency, awareness, everything," concludes Mulroe. "It's awesome. It's huge, it's huge, especially playing these couple of big games away at places where I've never played. I think they'll be neat environments, definitely. It's awesome. There's some teams, this November doesn't matter to them. Being at Northwestern, every November has mattered. But this one's the most-important one right now. We've put ourselves in a good position. Now it's all about finishing, and that's what we're about. Each game is huge now. November's awesome. We've had a history of doing well in November and we want to keep that up."
The objective, always, is to have your games mean something when November rolls around. For, only then, can a player reasonably hope to make his dream come true. "Exactly. Exactly," says Colter. "I've been talking to my dad about going to the Rose Bowl, seems like I've been talking to him about that my whole life, probably since I was seven or eight. Now we finally have the opportunity to make it happen. Some things gotta go our way, but we'll let all that work itself out. All we can do is control the three games we have."
"It's kind of surreal," adds Arnfelt. "You realize how long you've been working at it. We've been working for this, I've been working for it my whole life in football. You work for a moment like this. It can define a season, it can define a program. I think it's pretty cool."
"Every kid's dream is to play in the Rose Bowl," concludes Mulroe. "I've watched it for 10 or 15 years, ever since I started watching college football. So it's exciting that we have a chance. But, Michigan. Michigan's huge right now. We can't look forward to (a bowl game)."
Corner Quinn Evans, who sat out the Iowa game after being injured against Nebraska, was full go at Wednesday's practice. "I got a week to rest the body. So now I'm moving around, feeling great," he later said. But Nick VanHoose, the other corner who missed the Hawkeye game after being injured against the Huskers, wore a red jersey at that practice. "I'm in the non-contact world right now," he explained. And will he be ready for the Wolverines? "It's still to be determined. I'm still on the fence. It's possible. But I'm still not sure yet," he said.