October 29, 2011

Staying Up

By Rosemary Moran
Special to GoHolyCross.com

Holy Cross senior defensive backs Cav Koch and Chandler Fenner sat together on a couch in the Hogan Campus Center, laughing, admitting they have a connection.

"We are opposites," declared Fenner. "But we even each other out because he's more the level headed one, and I'm more intense. We are just a very tight knit pair." "I think there's something there," agreed Koch. "On the field I've always loved playing with Chandler. He's full of energy. When its rainy and cold and I'm feeling tired and I'm freezing, Chandler is the one doing jumping jacks and dancing, keeping everybody energized."

Fenner is quick to disclose his admiration for the calming influence provided by Koch. "The thing is, Cav always knows. He always has the right answer to what he is supposed to do, his coverage, everything," Fenner said. "He doesn't have to move a lot. He is confident that he is where he's supposed to be. I always think of that while I play. I try to apply his strengths to mine to make myself a better player. I think it's obvious that we build on each other."

"Chandler looks at me and sees calm, but on the inside, things are racing," revealed Koch. "I just think things through and stay calm." Koch agrees that one makes up what the other may lack. "Chandler looks the part and plays the part on the field. I think maybe when people see me as the safety, they might laugh because I look goofier out there than Chandler. Having him on the field is so important to me. He's always making the play, being physical, making the tackle. He's always getting everybody up, so enthusiastic. Although I think our styles our different, I try to emulate the way he plays as well. I try to bring the same intensity at practice and games."

Neither player is a native New Englander, but was attracted to the football program at Holy Cross for similar reasons. For Fenner, a Virginia Beach native, the decision to land on Mount St. James seemed clear. "When I visited schools, I came here and all of the guys brought me in and were interested in who I was and where I came from," he remarked. "While showing me around they really took me in. I didn't just feel like a recruit. That meant a lot to me to have the players say, 'I know the ropes, I'll show you the ropes.'"

Koch agrees, acknowledging the ease with which he recognized the right program for him was in Worcester. "Coming from Texas, I wanted to go somewhere completely different. Until I came here, I'd never been to the East Coast. The fact that Holy Cross was a smaller school and non-scholarship, I knew that the guys on the team were playing because they loved the sport, not for any other reasons. Everybody works hard because you always are around that motivation to make the most of your opportunities. It has lived up to everything I expected it to be."

Confident in their close relationship, Koch and Fenner reveal that each has helped the other through ups and downs during their years at Holy Cross and have witnessed one another develop on and off the field.

Fenner attributes his progress as a football player and a leader to those who guided him as an underclassman. "We definitely had some incredible leaders when we were younger. I learned so much from guys like Anthony DiMichele, Alex Johnson, John Myrick and Mike Wright, the upperclassmen leaders as we were coming up. Every single one of them gave us something different. In that way, it was a real community."

"They taught us a lot, as far as what we were supposed to do on the field and off of it," added Koch. "They created the unique community that we have now. It's a really close group of guys. From those models, we learned what it is like to be a leader, and I've loved it so far." Fenner agrees on the significance of a healthy team culture. "That community is so important while coming up. It allows you to see what role you will fill, and get those skills to make it happen."

While enjoying their newfound roles as leaders, both seniors agreed that their development is far from complete. "We're still learning, constantly. I still learn all of the time from the younger guys," assured Fenner. "It's your responsibility, your duty, to never be satisfied and always strive to be better. And you feel proud to fulfill that role when it's your turn."

Koch hopes that he can pass on the lessons that his predecessors provided him. "I would hope that the younger guys see how we communicate on the field. We are always supporting each other. We have each other's backs no matter what happens. If someone messes up, or misses an assignment, we pat each other on the back and try to lift our teammate up. We both share a passion for the game and for the team. I hope they have that and never lose sight of that as they move up."

"This year has been a little different," revealed Fenner. "Our slogan has become, 'Stay up!' Good communication is our biggest thing. It's so important to keep each other up. 'Stay up, Purple!' is always being yelled in practice and during the game, just to keep people flying around and keep the energy."

Koch believes that motto has made a big difference this year. "In past years, times got tough and we have hung our heads a bit. When you hang your head, things always go from bad to worse. I think this year, every game, we have always believed in 'staying up' and thought we were going to win."

"Belief is so important," agreed Fenner. "You practice to win. You always believe you can win. I never strap on my equipment for a loss. We're always going out there to win because we believe we can. And that's how it should be. You've got to believe it."

Fenner insists that he owes everything he knows about success in life to the game of football. "I don't know where football and real life really ends or begins, as far as preparation, work ethic, leadership, accepting criticism, being able to sacrifice. Everything falls in to both life and football. I think if you are looking to have any leadership role in society once you leave football, you have to maintain those things. Everything is integrated."

According to Koch, team support and camaraderie has been the key to the last four years. "You learn how to get through good and bad times as a team. You learn together that no matter what gets thrown your way, no matter what adversity you face, you'll get through it together."

Over half way through the regular season as seniors, the two defensive backs agree on the highlights of their time at Holy Cross and hopes for the future. "It was great when we won the Patriot League two years ago," said Fenner. "I'm hoping this team gets to have a memory like that. Not even just a league championship but even a run in the playoffs. As a senior you hope to go out on something like that. Winning the Patriot League has to be one of your goals. We have high aspirations this year. We plan to be in the playoffs. We have to believe we can. We are going to work for it because we have the talent to do it, we have the capability to do it, and that's the exiting thing. It's there for the taking."

This story originally appeared in the October 29 edition of the Holy Cross Game Day Program, for the contest between the Crusaders and Georgetown. To order a copy of the program, click here.