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Seniors Ryan Radcliff and Cody Wilson finished their collegiate careers in dramatic fashion, but what will their collective legacy be?
In the waning moments of their collegiate careers Ryan Radcliff and Cody Wilson did what they had done so many times before; they relied on one another in a pressure packed situation and this time, that trust rewarded them as well as their teammates.
With Central Michigan trailing Western Kentucky 21-17, Radcliff found Wilson in the corner of the end zone from 11 yards out for what proved to be the game-winning touchdown, with 5:11 remaining in the fourth quarter of Wednesday’s Little Caesars Pizza Bowl.
Central would hold on for the win in their first bowl appearance since 2009. The victory allowed Radcliff and Wilson to end their careers as winners; a status they both struggled to reach in the two years that immediately followed the Dan LeFevour era.
But maybe more importantly, the win helped the duo exorcise some demons and relieve some of the pressure associated with the shadow that the most successful stretch in program history left for them to stand under. That shadow only grew in size as the lack of success the Chippewas had under Dan Enos in his first two seasons, bled into his third. Two consecutive 3-9 seasons, coupled with the 3-6 start the team had in 2012, only made matters worse.
But four consecutive wins at the end of the year helped the team avoid a third straight losing season, a feat that would have cemented a far different legacy for Radcliff and Wilson, after Central Michigan had played in four consecutive bowl games from 2006 through 2009. The dramatic bowl game victory in their final game for Central gave Radcliff and Wilson the type of ending Hollywood producers eat up.
If nothing else, the win proved that the quarterback who wasn’t quite LeFevour and a receiver that was good but not exactly Antonio Brown, were more than good enough when it mattered most. The storybook ending wasn’t lost on the two seniors either. In fact, Wilson said he couldn’t have scripted it better himself.
“If you scripted it, dreamed it out, you know that’s the way you would want it to happen,” Wilson said. “It’s great to go out, last catch at CMU, a touchdown. This year I didn’t get a lot of those, so it was a good feeling and it came at a good time.”
Wilson had 10 catches for 101 yards receiving and the touchdown in his final game. He finished with 74 receptions, 840 yards receiving and three touchdowns in his final season at Central. Enos couldn’t say enough about Wilson’s play and stressed how reliable the receiver had been throughout his career.
“This guy never let’s us down, anything we ask him to do he does,” Enos said of Wilson. “He got hot today, we just kept calling his number and I knew he was gonna get open. And you know this about Cody, if the ball is anywhere near him, he’s gonna catch it. He’s a tremendous player, and these are great people and we’re gonna miss them.”
While Wilson went through his fair share of hardships over his last three years at Central Michigan, his quarterback may have served as the football program’s primary scapegoat, just as much, if not more so than their head coach. Enos said that Radcliff being named MVP of the bowl game served as poetic justice for a player who received the brunt of the blame for the team’s lack of success, during his three years as the starting quarterback.
“I thought it was poetic justice that Ryan would be the MVP of the bowl victory today, nobody’s more deserving than Ryan,” Enos said. “He’s been, much like me, he’s been criticized a lot over the last couple years but none of the lack of success for our team had anything to do with Ryan Radcliff.
“Not one person does a team make or not make. We just needed to get better as a team and this year we got better people around him and played better defense. So Ryan, obviously is gonna play better and benefit from that. But Ryan is a great person, he’s hung tough, he’s persevered, he’s gonna be an unbelievable person and man when he leaves here because of what he’s gone through and persevered through.”
Radcliff finished the game with 253 yards passing and three touchdowns, completing 19 of 29 passing attempts in his collegiate swan song. He played his best game in what may have been the last football game he’ll ever play in at any level.
While he never lived up to the expectations that were set for him when he was dealt the unfortunate task of taking the reins from the most popular Central Michigan player in recent memory, there’s something to be said about the type of person and the type of man Ryan Radcliff is. He finished with a 13-24 record as a starter for a school that was expected to be far more successful, despite major roster turnover, a change at head coach and offensive philosophy along the way.
Despite all of the excuses that could be made for Radcliff, he’s never made or looked for any of them. He’s taken responsibility for the team’s many failures over the last three years, whether he was to blame or not. He may not have had the success of his predecessor but he showed a level of maturity and perseverance in the face of a myriad of criticism, and that should ultimately be his and his favorite target’s legacy.
Photos by Brittni Hengesbach
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