Lucas Newburgh hung around for a few minutes after Rock Falls football practice to chat with head coach Scott Berge about playing sports in college.
There's a whole season of pins and submission holds waiting for Newburgh on the wrestling mat. But he's already mentally preparing to say goodbye to the prep level, even if it's a tough pill to swallow.
"I'll always be sad about not being able to play high school football anymore," the Rock Falls senior linebacker and offensive guard said. "I really think it's important for us to go out with a bang. We don't want to end on a bad note. Ending last season with a win was huge."
Now, who was that spirited road win against? Ah yes. The Oregon Hawks, at Landers-Loomis Field no less. On their Senior Night.
Naturally, Newburgh and his 1-7 Rockets would love to pull their Big Northern West rival into the non-playoff abyss with them – "We all know that Oregon is coming in 4-4 and it should feel like a playoff game. We'd all like to end their playoff hopes," Newburgh said.
While the Rockets' 41-36 victory didn't spoil a playoff bid, it sullied Senior Night.
But looky there. The Hawks can return the favor at Hinders Field on Friday.
"We've watched video on them, and we're definitely not taking them lightly," Oregon senior Ashton Rutherford said. "It's their senior year, and we expect them to come out angry, since their record wasn't good enough for the playoffs. They're going to give us their best shot."
Whereas the Rockets are dressing fewer than 20 players these days, the Hawks have recently gotten healthy at two crucial positions.
Safety/running back Garrett Rude suffered a concussion against North Boone in Week 4. For the record, the Viking whose elbow caused the concussion left with an injury, and Rude didn't realize something was askew until he couldn't remember his locker combination after the game.
The next week, Rude missed the Rockford Lutheran game – in which Rutherford suffered a nasty left ankle sprain – but was back to 100 percent the week thereafter.
Rutherford assured Hawks fans the same goes for him by rushing nine times for 65 yards and a touchdown in his return last Friday, a 35-20 victory over Mendota. With that win, the Hawks crept within a win of playoff eligibility, and their 45 playoff points entering Friday are second-most in the state among .500 teams.
So win, and the Hawks are in.
"It's actually making us play a lot better, knowing that it's a must-win," Rutherford said.
When he rolled his ankle in kickoff coverage against Lutheran, only to be hit by a blocker, the impact stretching his ligament to an agonizing extent, it didn't take long for Rutherford to think about the bigger picture.
"I was really worried about losing my senior year and letting my team down," Rutherford said. "I know there was nothing I could do about it, but I didn't want to put that bad vibe on the team."
Especially with Rude in street clothes.
"I didn't want the team to get even more down and think we don't have enough guys to compete," Rutherford said.
With Rude back, the onus is on him and fellow defensive backs Adam Bettner and Chris Jordan to slow the Rockets' prolific passing attack.
"We just need to show up and be ready to defend the pass," Rude said. "It'll be challenging. The biggest thing for me and the other DBs is to keep the play in front of us and, if they do get a big play, to be ready to get the next one."
Even if the Hawks saw it coming, Rock Falls' bubble post gave Oregon fits a year ago.
"They couldn't stop it to save their lives," Newburgh said. "And when we need a big yardage play, that's kind of our bread and butter."
The Hawks' bread and butter? Well, it's more like a whole loaf, rather than one slice. They hope to wear out the Rockets by grounding, pounding and – most importantly – keeping the chains moving and the clock running.
"They really fire off the ball super hard," Newburgh said of the Oregon offensive linemen, "and obviously our line has not been the greatest all year. We've stressed all year that we need to stay low. They fire off the line and get to the second level."
No Hawk wants to give the impassioned speech Joey Diehl delivered after the Week 9 loss a year ago. Rutherford says the since-graduated backer stood in the locker room and challenged the Hawks to get back to the playoffs. To do it for the town. And to put every bit of their heart into it.
"Obviously, it's going to make you try to play harder," Rude said. "No one wants to disappoint anyone, obviously."