Boxers still hungry for first win
Pacific football players and coaches have their own definition of success as the program continues to hunt for its first victory since reinstatement
What is success? Is it just winning games and championships? Or can it be something else? Is the expression 'it's not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game' simply a mantra for losers? Or can the game matter more than the wins and losses?
Over the last year-plus, the Pacific University football team has been answering that question.
After Pacific resurrected the sport last year, the Boxers have yet to win a game. They went 0-9 last season and currently sit at 0-4 this year after dropping a 61-35 decision to Lewis and Clark at home on Saturday.
In rebuilding the program, though, the Boxers have come to view success differently than most other teams.
'You have to measure success in different ways, when you're almost all freshmen and sophomores basically playing against all juniors and seniors,' Pacific head coach Keith Buckley says. 'We keep very internal goals. We worry about ourselves. We can't control what our opponents are doing at this point.
'Absolutely, we would love to win football games. We set out to do that every week, but the reality of our situation, with our youth and inexperience, is that we have to define success in alternative ways to measure that we are continuing to improve and grow as a program.'
Small successes have been piling up for the Boxers over the 13 consecutive losses. The Boxers even landed on ESPN's SportsCenter as the 'Top Play of the Day' on Saturday when they blocked a Lewis and Clark extra point and Pacific's Bryan Mills took the ball 100 yards to the end zone for two points (see sidebar).
The first win is out there. Pacific is getting closer to victory. In 2010, the Boxers lost all of their games by 12 points or more. They opened this season with a 10-point loss to Simon Fraser. In their second game, against Menlo, Pacific lost by seven.
On Saturday, Lewis and Clark pulled away from the Boxers for a big win, but the Pioneers - long viewed as a doormat in the Northwest Conference - are 4-0 this season and have become more competitive in recent years.
'I feel like we're really close (to a win),' Pacific quarterback T.C. Campbell says. 'We should've won the first two games. We let those slip away. We should've already had wins on the board.'
Campbell, a 5-11, 190-pound sophomore, says that the drive to get that first win can cause a team to put too much pressure on itself. But it also makes the players rise up to make themselves better.
'Sometimes we put too much pressure on getting that first win,' Campbell says. 'But when it comes down to it, we've all won before. We put more pressure on ourselves every day in practice to play to perfection as much as possible.
'But when it comes to Saturday, we've just got to go out there and play football.'
Despite having only 14 upperclassmen, Pacific has strength in numbers. For the second consecutive year, the Boxers are near the 140-player mark.
'We're 135 strong,' Buckley says. 'We have a tremendous amount of competition for positions and playing time. That raises the level in every position and for every rep that we're giving out.'
Buckley says the young men who step onto the field for Pacific are different than the players on other teams.
'We told them that this was going to be one of the hardest things they did,' he says. 'This opportunity attracts a very adventurous type of individual because this is an atypical college experience.'
The players have bonded through the daunting task of rebuilding the football program. That closeness keeps the team strong no matter what the scoreboard says after the final whistle on Saturdays.
'We have really good chemistry,' Campbell says. 'That's what keeps us tight through the rough times. We work really well together, and we support each other. We all know that there are going to be struggles on Saturdays, so we do a pretty good job staying together and fighting together no matter what's going on on the field.'
The Boxers continue to wait for and work toward their first win. As they grind through reps at practice and step onto the gridiron on Saturdays, being a part of history is not lost on the players.
'Not many guys can say that they were the start of a program,' Campbell says.
When this first class of football players leaves Pacific, if the chips fall the way Buckley wants them to, regardless of wins and losess the players will have built something. And in that, they can know that these years were a success.
'We're not living tradition, we're setting tradition,' Buckley says. 'And we're not living up to or failing expectations, we're setting them.
'With that comes a great sense of pride in being the first and being the ones who are trying to set a foundation for the future.'