Brian Cabral still remembers his last game in pads at Folsom Field, a place he calls home.
That senior-day for then-linebacker Cabral, who still ranks among the top 20 for tackles in school history, was a win against then Big Eight rival Kansas State.
More than two decades later, as interim head coach for his beloved alma-mater, he will lead another group of CU seniors onto Folsom for their last game. Saturday’s home game against the Kansas State Wildcats marks the end of the collegiate careers of Cody Hawkins, Scotty McKnight and Nate Solder, among others.
“The fact is that this is the last time those seniors will compete out there on Folsom Field,” Cabral said. “I know how that feels; I know what that means. That’s a feeling that you’ll never forget.”
Cabral’s 22 years on the Buffs’ coaching staff ranks as the longest tenure in CU history for any sport. The Hawaii native has been around long enough to know what to expect from a Bill Snyder-coached team. He even alludes to Snyder as the Bill McCartney of Kansas State football.
“We’re going to have Kansas State’s and Bill Snyder’s full force, and I don’t know if there’s any other Big 12 coach that has seen Coach Snyder develop that program the way I have,” Cabral said. “I’ve seen it. I’ve experienced it. So I know full well that we’re going to have our hands full.”
A win or a loss is the difference between a bowl game and an extended winter break for these seniors. They will need to win out in order to reach the postseason, something they have not accomplished since they were freshmen.
Meanwhile in Manhattan, at 6-4, all of Kansas State’s losses have come in conference play. They rely on the run, led by senior Doak Walker candidate Daniel Thomas. With a two-quarterback system, they have run 200 more times than they have thrown.
On defense, they are one of the worst teams nationally against the run. The 220 rushing yards allowed is last in the Big 12 by a wide margin. That statistic alone should have Buffs offensive linemen and tailbacks giddy, but tackle Nate Solder says otherwise.
“I remember Kansas State every year being one of the more physical games,” Solder said.
High praise coming from a man that is 6 ft. 9 in. and well over 300 pounds.
In last year’s 20-6 loss in Manhattan, KS the offense gave up four sacks and two turnovers.
Former coach Dan Hawkins was 1-3 against the Wildcats during his tenure. Hawkins will again be in attendance for Saturday’s game, as he will escort son Cody across the field for senior day farewells.
According to the players, the difference between the Hawkins-coached team and the current Cabral-coached one is already apparent.
Freshman receiver Paul Richardson, who has made a huge impact in his last four games, says that Cabral’s energy has the team feeling brand new.
“When he was given the job, he said ‘this is a new team,’” Richardson said. “It felt different; we feel new, we’re starting to play more together. Everything we do, we do together.”
Even Solder, who projects to be a top NFL Draft pick in April, echoes those feelings.
“The thing about Cabral that’s just kind of rejuvenated me in this time is his passion for the Buffs, his knowledge of the histories and traditions of the Buffs,” Solder said.
Solder went on to lobby for Mike Bohn to consider Cabral as the full-time head coach next season.
“Would I want him to be the head coach?” he said. “Yeah, I would because I think he would do a great job.”
Cabral has said in the past that he would want to be the head coach if the program gave him the offer. The coach said that there is no time to think about vague futures. He said he is too busy worrying about his seniors and keeping their dreams of a bowl alive.
“My full focus is this team, this group of seniors and this game,” Cabral said. “What that does for my future? I have no idea. I’m thinking about these guys right now, these seniors right now, and this game right now.”
Speaking of changing times ahead, it is worth remembering that this will be the last Big 12 game played on the grounds of Folsom Field. The Buffs, who will make the move to the Pac 10 conference in 2011, hope to leave the conference they helped establish with two more wins.
On Saturday Folsom Field will host the end of many eras (both long and brief) when Kansas State comes to play. Cabral says he is ready.
“I just remember how awesome it was to be a Buffalo,” he said. “That’s [Folsom Field] my home. That has been my home. I guess it still is. When you grow up in a program, you fight battles out there, and you win some and lose some, you cry and you laugh, you get hurt, and there are just so many emotions and feelings that happen on that field.”
Contact Sports Writer Micahel Krumholtz at email@example.com.