It’s a badge of honor to be among the select few adorning a single-digit numer for the Temple Owls football team — those nine men voted “Temple Tuff” by their teammates, carrying on a tradition started by then coach Al Golden in 2009. A tradition new Owls coach Geoff Collins feels privileged to continue.
“The fact you have to earn those numbers resonated with me ever since I heard about it,” said Collins, who already has six single digit players on the roster, with three more to be awarded before Temple’s Sept. 2 season opener at Notre Dame. “One of the things I was most excited about when I got this job was being able to carry on that tradition and add my little favor. I think it’s one of most special traditions in college football.”
Even if it may paint a bulls-eye on your cherry and white uniform.
“To other teams it’s a target on your back but to my teammates, I feel like their role model,” said senior cornerback turned safety Sean Chandler, who’s worn No. 3 since his sophomore season. “When I got it I felt like my teammates were giving me a big pat on the back. But I’m pretty sure a lot of other teams know about the tradition and they’re gonna try to come after me and the others to prove they’re tougher.”
That doesn’t faze layers like wide receiver Ventell Bryant (No. 1), strong safety Delvon Randall (No. 2), fullback Nick Sharga (No. 4), wide receiver Keith Kirkwood (No. 5) and defensive lineman Jacob Martin (No. 9). They know they’re carrying on a trail blazed by former teammates Tyler Matakevitch, Tavon Young and the keys to last season’s 10-4 American Athletic Conference champions, quarterback Philip Walker and running back Jahad Thomas.
It’s especially meaningful for Kirkwood, a 2014 transfer from Hawaii, who’s expected to also see some action on defense this season. Collins, you see, also wore No. 5 when he played defensive back and linebacker at Western Carolina.
“It’s pretty cool to wear the same number your coach wore,” Kirkwood who caught 42 passes for 648 yards and four touchdowns last seasons, said. “When I first got here I told myself one day I’d wear a single digit. I had to work hard for it but I think it didn’t go unnoticed. It’s gonna be an honor and a privilege to wear no. 5."
But with that single digit comes a certain responsibility.
“It’s leadership,” Kirkwood said, “Not just being the best player at whatever position you’re at. It’s having that will to help the team whatever way you can.”
In case you were wondering, yes, there’s a tremendous amount of respect without resentment or jealousy among the rest of the roster.
“Guys who are single digits are tough,” senior defensive end Sharif Finch, who could quite possibly move from No. 56 to either No. 6, 7 or 8 before the Owls head to South Bend, said. “They’re the leaders on our team. They mean the world to this team and it would mean the world to me being voted one of the single digits on this team.”
Because what Golden started, then Steve Addazio and Matt Rhule continued has just as much if not more meaning to the new coach.
“They embody the culture of this program,” Collins said, ironically one of Rhule’s closest friends in the business having coached together both at Division III Albright and Western Carolina. “When you see a kid in this program who wears a single digit you know he’s tough, he’s physical and he’s great teammate. Wearing a single digit at Temple is just a special badge of honor.“