The narrow seven-point loss suffered by the Elon University football team Nov. 15, the team’s eighth straight, was one that players would usually like to quickly forget. But for linebacker Jonathan Spain, playing in his last game at Rhodes Stadium, the moments after the game were ones he wanted to cherish the most.
The fifth-year senior was one of the last players to leave the field, along with fellow senior linebacker Odell Benton. Spain said he was “sinking it in.”
“I saw [Benton] and gave him a hug, and I was just trying to find some seniors that I’ve been here a long time with,” Spain said. “I know they’ve put a lot of hard work in with me. We’ve shared a lot of disappointment and some success together.”
Spain and Benton are a part of a class of 12 seniors that were honored on the field with their families before the game. Though wins have come at a premium over the last four to five years, making it to Senior Day is an accomplishment in itself.
“It’s a great thing to be able to get to Senior Day,” Spain said. “I’m 23 years old, and I’m still playing football — that’s a great thing. I love the game, and it’s been a great ride even though the season hasn’t gone the way I wanted it to.”
The Phoenix has amassed 17 wins over the past five seasons, under three different head coaches. Change has been the theme in Elon’s recent history, and the seniors have been through more system changes than they probably would’ve preferred. But the seniors showed up in a big way during their final home game.
Defensive lineman Dustin Ruff was a force on the inside, racking up eight tackles on the game, one for a loss. On offense, wide receiver Kierre Brown caught five passes for 88 yards and a touchdown as quarterback Mike Quinn’s go-to option.
“These guys have meant a lot to me,” said Elon head coach Rich Skrosky. “You look at the staff change and what they’ve been through the last several years, the effort has been unbelievable. The energy has been unbelievable.”
But the most impressive performance came from Spain, the anchor of the Phoenix defense for the past four years. The Greensboro native had two third-down sacks and a team-leading 12 tackles. Those 12 tackles moved him past Joshua Jones and Brandon Wiggins for fourth on the all-time Elon tackles list with 352 career stops.
It’s quite an accomplishment for Spain, one of the most successful players in program history, who made it a goal earlier in the season to pass former teammates Wiggins and Jones.
“I feel really blessed and fortunate to be able to play in a program like this for five years,” Spain said.
Though Spain finished his career at Rhodes Stadium on a high note, Senior Day was a bit of a disappointment for quarterback Mike Quinn, who was celebrating his 23rd birthday Nov. 15. Quinn started 1-for-12 passing and finished 13-for-35 with two interceptions and a touchdown.
“Not the birthday I was hoping to have — totally the opposite,” Quinn said.
Despite being caught in a lost season, one game remains on Nov. 22 at James Madison University, and it represents one last chance for Elon’s seniors to win the program’s first-ever Colonial Athletic Association game.
“It’s pretty emotional, but I’ve still got one game left, so I’m not trying to think about it,” Spain said. “I’m trying to think about James Madison when I wake up tomorrow, and I’ll think about all that stuff after that game.”
On to the next game. It’s the mindset Spain and others have had to adopt throughout their careers at Elon and is one that will come to an end in Harrisonburg, Virginia.