BY JIM DUZYK
As the first playoff game in the football team's 17-year history came to a close and the players finished shaking hands with the victors at midfield of the Fargodome, the Colonials didn’t move directly to their locker room. First they walked over to a section of the stands to thank the contingent of fans who traveled over 1,000 miles to support them.
“It was just our way of saying thank you,” said senior linebacker Alex DiMichele. “Our fans and families have come out to watch us all season, even traveling to a lot of our away games. They were as much a part of what we accomplished as the players who suited up and played every Saturday. We wanted to make sure they were reminded of that.”
Greeting the fans and families of the Robert Morris faithful became a tradition in 2010, as the Colonials climbed back to the top of the NEC rankings for the first time in a decade. Their 7-1 conference record also earned them the NEC's first automatic bid in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision playoffs, drawing a matchup with the North Dakota State Bison. In that game, the Colonials scored first, led at halftime, and were behind by only a field goal early in the fourth quarter; in the end, they couldn't stop a final Bison stampede of 23 unanswered points, and lost 43-17. Still, it was a season to remember, with RMU's 100th victory and NEC-record sixth championship.
The Colonials swept the conference's major awards. DiMichele, the team leader in tackles and anchor of a defense that yielded a leaguelow 18 points per game, was named NEC Defensive Player of the Year. Senior running back Myles Russ, the university's all-time rushing leader, was named NEC Offensive Player of the Year after gaining 1,363 yards in 2010 and scoring 10 touchdowns. The architect of Robert Morris football, Joe Walton, was named NEC Coach of the Year for the fourth time.
“We knew we had a chance to do something special after closing out last season with five straight wins,” Russ said. “It was important for us to work hard in the offseason and then stick together as a team this season, and that’s exactly what we did. Our fans joined us for the ride and became our 12th man, whether it was at home or on the road, and we couldn’t have done it without them.”
Walton, who has seen the program's ups and downs over the last two decades, said what transpired this season ranks near the top of his career highlights in over 50 years in the sport. “Obviously, I’m proud of what our team accomplished,” he said. “Football is the ultimate team sport, and you can’t win unless you have leaders develop in the locker room. This year that’s what happened. It started there and then translated to the field.”