Nicholas Stewart

Brett Taylor was named the MVFC Defensive Player of the Week after the Leatherencks defeated the Northern Iowa Panthers. Taylor has recorded 67 tackles this year, an interception return for a touchdown and three fumble recoveries, including one for a touchdown.

Nicholas Stewart

CEDAR FALLS, Iowa — For five years — five long years — I have been covering Western Illinois University football. It’s been a roller coaster of emotion season to season.

After four seasons of heartbreak, this season is different. To put things simply, this season is fun
to cover.

I have a personal connection covering football, as it was the first thing I ever did for the Western Courier back in October of 2011. That season, the Leathernecks went 2-9. But at the time, that did not matter to me. I was never a big fan of football, or any sport for that matter. I was simply taking photos.

In 2012, the Leathernecks went 3-8. Not much better. However I experienced my first road trip with the team in South Dakota, and first road win, against the Coyotes. In the grand scheme of things, that game didn’t do much for Western. It was another year of disappointment. But I started getting attached to this Western football team, something I never thought I would have.

Starting in 2013, the Leathernecks found new leadership under head coach Bob Nielson. That’s when things began to change. Western went 4-8 that year, but it was the start of the rebuilding process.

Fast-forward to 2015. The Leathernecks are tied for first place in the FCS most difficult conference with one of the toughest schedules in the nation — and the team is on the verge of getting ranked nationally.

As weird as it sounds, I wasn’t ready for this.

I keep my hopes high every year, something that I had to pay for in years past, but I always wait for that final play in the final few minutes when the competition would beat out Western. I wait for that final penalty that would come and hurt Western badly.

I’ve gotten so used to heartbreak, as weird as it sounds. I’m not used to winning.

For a school that needs something to cheer for, given the ongoing budget crisis, the football team is providing just that. The team is lifting morale for the students. It’s also giving me that extra excitement covering football my final semester, something that has been missing the past four years.

Journalists are seen as unbiased people just reporting on the game. Looking from the outside, it surely looks like it. Celebrating and cheering is not allowed on the sidelines or in the press box for obvious reasons, but for the last few games, including Saturday’s upset win over No. 12 Northern Iowa, I was cheering quietly on the inside.

After frantically running around the field capturing the moments of celebration following the win, the first thing I did was celebrate quietly with my travel partner and Courier Sports Editor Cody Rivera.

Yesterday was the most important Western game I have covered since my tenure at the Courier started, and next week’s battle for first place against the Illinois State Redbirds will top that. My purple boonie hat and my camera are ready.

Get excited, Western. The team needs your support in Normal, Illinois. This team is capable of big things, and sitting at 3-0 in the toughest conference in the FCS is a great place to be. 

The wheels are in motion for a very memorable season.

Twitter: @NickStewartWIU