Sept. 19, 2006
Watch video from the visit
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It is not often that you hear football players and coaches talk about anything being more important than next Saturday's opponent. After all, it takes that kind of focus and dedication to become champions. But for the Ohio Bobcats, next Saturday took a backseat when the team visited the World Trade Center after their game with Rutgers on Sept. 16, just five days after the fifth anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States.
"It was an opportunity to take our kids somewhere where it's bigger than them, bigger than Ohio football," Director of Football Operations Jason Grooms said. "There are other things more important than football. This is something that is bigger in our lives than football ever will be."
Grooms and Head Coach Frank Solich worked with the New Jersey State Police and the Port Authority Police Department to arrange the trip. The Bobcats received a police escort from Rutgers Stadium to the site, and several officers were on hand during the visit. They not only answered questions and provided information, but their presence also reminded many of the players and staff of what happened that day.
"It puts things in perspective," senior quarterback Austen Everson said. "The big picture is that we're playing football for fun. There are people out there who are firemen, policemen and rescue squads that were risking their lives that day and do so much for us so that we can have fun and freedom."
Perspective. That one word was on the minds of everyone during the visit. Seeing the place that triggered events that have affected so many people's lives around the world gave those on the trip a reason to pause and reflect on the things that are truly important in their lives.
"I'm glad the coaches set this up," junior running back Kalvin McRae said. "It makes me appreciate having my life every day. You really can't imagine what the families of these people are going through."
"It's one of those things that is a hard reminder that there are things in life so much more important than football," added Everson. "Friends and family are the most important thing. It really points that out in a really vivid and powerful way."
One player that has a unique perspective on that day's events is senior linebacker Michael Graham. Graham's uncle works at the Pentagon and was in the building when American Airlines Flight 77 hit the facility at 9:43 a.m.
"My first thought, obviously, was about my uncle and his family," Graham said. "I started praying right away. I still remember getting the news. I was in the elevator at my high school. I had a broken foot so I was riding in the elevator, and one of the teachers mentioned that the World Trade Center had been hit. Not long after while we were in homeroom, they made the announcement about the Pentagon. That one hit home."
Graham's uncle was safe, but there were questions until he was able to get word to the family.
"I can't describe it. For me, it wasn't as bad as for my aunt and his children," Graham said. "It was hard for anybody to go on. Pretty much everything stopped. To find out he was safe was one of the biggest reliefs."
Graham's connection to the events that began that day does not stop with his uncle. After seeing what his uncle went through and hearing him talk of the global war on terror, Graham's older brother joined the Army last summer and has already served a tour of duty in the Middle East.
"I can't help but to feel a little obligation myself," Graham said. "My brother has answered the call for the country. I think everybody feels a need to want to do something for their country. I'm incredibly proud of my brother and what he's doing. You really swell up with pride, but you're also very worried at times when he is over there. The people he works with say they all take great care of each other over there."
While Graham's recollections of Sept. 11, 2001 might have hit a little closer to home than most others on the team, he certainly is not the only one who remembers what they were doing that day.
"It seems like yesterday that this happened so it's hard to imagine that it's been five years," Tight Ends Coach Pete Germano said. Germano was on the Bobcat staff preparing for the trip to North Carolina State originally scheduled for Sept. 13.
"I remember being in the office and working as a staff when someone yelled to come out and watch TV," Germano said. "I couldn't believe it was happening. To be here five years later, and imagine it was five years ago, is hard."
While the actual event took place more than five years ago, the on-going repercussions have permeated nearly every corner of life in the United States and the world.
"This event affected not only this country, but it affected the world and how we live today," Solich said. "There's been a great deal of history involved in the short period of time since the towers went down to the way the world is right now."
To show their appreciation, the Bobcats left an Ohio football hat on the shrine that now stands at the site. The hat sits next to other offerings of sympathy and respect from around the world.
"It's a great honor to be able to come here," senior linebacker Matt Muncy said. "I think it was a great experience for the whole team to come here and feel the weight of what happened here."