By Lauren Leary
Special to GoHolyCross.com
It is common knowledge that the success of any sports team is heavily dependent on the relationship between teammates. For the Holy Cross football program, however, chemistry extends past teammates to include coaches as well as family members back home.
The road to Worcester was strikingly different for fifth-year senior captain Mike McCabe and senior Sean Whited. While McCabe attended a private preparatory high school in the small suburban town of Watertown, Conn., Whited was thousands of miles away immersed in the large, football-mecca of Canton, Ohio, home of the Professional Football Hall of Fame. Yet, there is one similarity between these two offensive linemen that led them to playing football for the Crusaders. The college's emphasis on loyalty, both McCabe and Whited agree, is what attracted them most to the program at Holy Cross.
McCabe, a Classics major, has been faced with balancing a rigorous academic schedule with athletics since he attended high school at the prestigious Taft Preparatory School. As a three-sport athlete participating in football, basketball and track, he claims that other than alumni, there was not much of a fan base surrounding the school's football program. McCabe's parents were influential in both his academic and athletic experiences at the private school, as his father was his track and football coach, and his mother was his algebra teacher. The closeness of his family aided in his preparation for football, as he spent his summers training with his older sisters who were both two-sport athletes at Colby College in Maine. McCabe's family was also influential in his decision to attend Holy Cross. "I wanted to be close enough to my parents where they could come to all the games regardless if we were playing at home or away," he explained.
When McCabe visited Holy Cross, he was impressed by the campus as well as the closeness of the team. "The coaches got along really well and I could immediately tell they were genuinely friends. That meant a lot." The fifth-year senior captain has also had great success in the classroom and has received several awards recognizing his achievements. McCabe credits his accomplishments to the education he received at Taft, as well as his ability to compartmentalize and focus on academics and football as two separate entities. His dedication has been praised by both his coaches and professors, as head coach Tom Gilmore commented, "I have had multiple professors tell me that he is one of the best students they have ever had in class, and I can tell you as his coach that he is also one of the best offensive linemen we have had at Holy Cross."
Throughout his four years on the Hill, Whited has developed into one of the toughest players in the Holy Cross football program. He has overcome three serious knee injuries, which he did not allow to deter his determination to help the Crusaders succeed. Described by coach Gilmore as the, "strong, silent type," Whited was used to playing under pressure, as his high-profile public school team played on the field each week before an average of 15,000 fans. A three-sport athlete until his junior year of high school when he decided to devote his athletic abilities solely to football, he is grateful to have been able to attend a school that was dedicated to the success of the high school football program. "I learned a lot by attending public schools, both socially and through their devotion to football," Whited said. "It was good to come from a diverse background. Canton is a very diverse place and the high school reflects that."
Through the support of his family who attended each of his high school games, as well as the dedication of his trainer with whom he still keeps in contact, Whited knew he was looking for a similar close-knit relationship with the college he was to attend. When coach Gilmore flew out to Ohio to meet with the high school senior and his family, he knew he had found a perfect match. While the visit was enough to convince him to become a Crusader, the move to Worcester was initially difficult. "It was really hard for me to come here at first," Whited said. "I'm really close with my family and it was a big adjustment moving from the Midwest to the Northeast." Since he has spent more time at Holy Cross, however, he maintains that he has, "grown a lot as a person. I had to become independent and do things by myself – I didn't know anyone out here, I kind of just showed up when I was supposed to." As a senior majoring in Sociology, Whited is more than comfortable at Holy Cross, "It's been great," he said. "I love this place. Holy Cross is my home now".
The relationship between the players and coaches of the Holy Cross football program is one that is undoubtedly important, as the hours of meetings, lifting and practice consume a majority of the athletes' lives. Luckily for Whited and McCabe, they formed strong connections with their coaches from day one. "Coach Gilmore is very genuine," Whited said. "How many coaches would fly out for an hour long meeting with a recruit? He truly cares about his players." McCabe agreed explaining, "My favorite thing about coach Gilmore is his loyalty. He is one of the most loyal people I've ever met. There are times he may yell at you but when it comes down to it he will be dedicated to his players. He really cares about us."
As leaders of the Crusader squad, McCabe and Whited also agree on the team's goals for the remainder of the season. "First and foremost, the goal every year is to win the Patriot League," McCabe said. "We want to be playing football during Thanksgiving break." Whited was optimistic as well, stating, "Our team as a whole has been more committed this year than I've ever seen. We're putting in the time and effort to win the league and we're all very focused on what we want." The dedication of both McCabe and Whited to their team's success is reflective of the loyalty that initially drew them to Holy Cross. What began as a quality they both admired in their coaching staff has transformed into a tool for leading their teammates both on and off the field, and in this particular way, loyalty will continue to remain an influential part of the Holy Cross football program.
This story originally appeared in the October 15 edition of the Holy Cross Game Day Program, for the contest between the Crusaders and Dartmouth. To order a copy of the program, click here.