In a week of turmoil and uncertainty for Towson State University football, the players have found strength in each other and their coaching staff.
"It was difficult for us this week," said senior co-captain Gary Hatcher. "There was so much interruption from outside. We've tried to block it out, even to the point of building a shield around ourselves."
Offensive guard Bill Yahn said: "We had to look inward for what we needed. It seemed like an awful lot of people were against us, even most of the school itself. We were glad to see yesterday [Thursday] we could look outward a little."
The outpouring of support from alumni, former players and members of the community at an open forum Thursday to discuss the plan to suspend Towson football has buoyed the spirits of the Tigers as they go into their homecoming game today against New Haven.
"The upbeat tempo of that meeting certainly helped the young guys because their future is in the hands of board members," said senior wide receiver Dewey Barnes, the other co-captain.
"But deep down, we knew what we had to do [is] to prove to everybody out there that we're not done playing yet, despite all this decision stuff."
Junior linebacker Jared Freeze added: "I think it [the forum] went really well. It gave us a lot of insight into what was going on. It helped us believe that football will be saved."
With homecoming and its first victory of the season last week, the team's incentive to beat New Haven, which averages 36.5 points, was already high. The forum has only heightened it.
"I think we had enough feel already for this game," said Yahn. "And if dropping the program doesn't add more, I don't know what would."
Coach Phil Albert altered his practice schedule this week to allow his players to attend the forum. They worked reasonably hard yesterday on what usually would have been a day devoted to meetings and loosening up.
"That [change in practice] won't affect us," said Yahn. "Normally, I'm ready by Tuesday. The rest is just turning it up on the field."
"I don't think that changing practice will bother us," said Barnes. "We had a day off we wouldn't normally have."
The players began to be aware of the threat to the program Oct. 25, when the Intercollegiate Athletic Committee recommended suspension.
The next day, Albert showed them the film "Glory," and they responded by beating Howard, 17-7, to end an eight-game losing streak.
"That movie motivated us, brought us closer together," said Freeze. "A lot of us were thinking about the 54th [infantry regiment] before the game."
This week, they will be thinking about support that they never realized was there, support that surfaced at the forum.
"Emotionally, we know we're going to win," said Freeze. "We're hyped up for it."
Barnes said: "A lot of people pledged support in front of everybody. That made a big turnaround in this situation. It has turned positive."