Author: Dawson Haywood
When I came to Western Carolina University as a Freshman in 2017 I was excited to come to a school with a football team. I knew that WCU was not anything special when it came to football, but needless to say, I was still glad there was a team I would be able to watch on Saturdays. In my first year, the Catamounts had a winning season finishing fourth in the conference but had a shot at winning the conference up to the last week of the season until they lost to the Mercer Bears. Needless to say, this was their second winning season within three seasons, which is rare here in Cullowhee, and things were looking up.
Because of the success they had during that first season, I wanted to be a part of the success I thought was to come. I made a few connections and before the spring of my freshman year and found my way to working for the team film crew. It did not take long to immerse myself into the team. I began right away working up until the summer. Due to my financial situation I was unable to continue volunteering for the team once fall came around but I still managed to keep myself close working for ESPN as a member of the camera crew at Western Carolina. I did that for the majority of my sophomore year, worked enough, and raised enough money to put me back into a position where I was able to volunteer again for the football team in the fall of my junior year.
What a ride that was. Unfortunately for the Catamounts, they ended up 3-9 with two of those losses coming from FBS teams. One thing I noticed out the gate during the season is that the team was operated a lot like a high school football program with a few more bells and whistles. The team would lift, condition, watch film, practice, and go home. That was their daily routine.
Another thing I noticed and is likely the reason for consistently losing records was the culture of the team. There was obviously a hierarchy of players that the head coach favored. There were beefs on the team that were never settled which often impacted the flow and energy of practice. Though watching fights and brawls break out during practice was entertaining for the film crew it was also upsetting because a team that is struggling to win games should not be fighting against one another.
During the 2019 season, though I was working with a very broken team, I did get to go to a few really cool places that I would not have seen had I not been a part of that staff. The first place we visited was Chattanooga which was not anything special but when you look at the Chattanooga sideline and get within five feet of Hall of Fame Wide Receiver Terrell Owens the whole trip was worth it even though the Catamounts allowed 60 points to be scored on them.
The next place I was able to visit was Wofford who absolutely smacked us 59-7. For my Carolina Panther’s fans, you may know this, but Wofford was at the time the training camp facility for the team. The away locker room that we were staying in was the same locker room that the Carolina Panthers used for training camp.
One of my favorite experiences with WCU Football was after the 2019 East Tennessee State, our rival, game. Western ended up winning that game in overtime and if you were in that locker room after the game you would have thought we had just won a national title. I swear the team played Fanito by Chief Keef at least five times following the game.
Finally, my favorite experience of my time at Western Carolina, the Alabama game. Driving into Birmingham, where our hotel was, we were escorted by the local police which kind of shocked me. I was then later informed that Alabama fans are nuts and love to mess with the away team if they can. I could not imagine someone messing with an FCS team that was coming into Tuscaloosa to get their butts wiped. It made sense though because just two weeks prior Alabama lost to the future national champions LSU so emotions were likely high for Bama fans.
The morning of the game the film crew traveled to Bryant-Denny before the team did to set up the locker room and equipment. Say what you will about Alabama but the staff that is running that place know how to show true Southern hospitality. Their equipment team allowed us to tour the locker room, equipment room, and stadium suites.
During pregame warmups, while Alabama was practicing on their half and the Catamounts were practicing on their half you could tell that Western was out of their element. Knowing that majority of the starters on that Alabama team would eventually end up in the NFL you could tell that the team was starstruck. As a few of the other student assistants and I were huddled around the 50-yard line an Alabama player walked up to us and asked “Where is Western Carolina?”. We further explained to him where our school was, what conference we were in, and what our crap record was only to later find out that that player was Jerry Jeudy.
That year Tua was hurt so Mac Jones started the game and Tua’s younger brother, Taulia, came in eventually, and between the two they only threw the ball 15 times and completed 12 of those. Of the 12 passes that were completed 4 winded up being touchdowns. Jaylen Waddle, Najee Harris, DaVonte Smith, Keilan Robinson, Jarome Ford, Mac Jones, Taulia Tagovailoa, and Brian Robinson Jr. were the eight players that scored touchdowns against the catamounts that day. At the end of the day, Alabama had racked up 310 passing yards, 231 rushing yards, 4 passing touchdowns, and 4 rushing touchdowns.
I think the best part of the game was halftime in the Western Carolina locker room. I understand as a coach you never want to see your team get absolutely smacked but I truly believe that our coach came into this game expecting to give Alabama a run for their money. Western Carolina had barely gotten away with beating a team that was an entire division below them earlier in the season. Coach Mark Speir was livid at the team during halftime accusing the team of having no pride and not being tough enough to give Alabama a run for their money. What is crazy is that their smallest receiver may have been just as big as our biggest lineman. That’s a bit of an exaggeration but you get my point. Even though the team I was working for was on the receiving end of that beat down I can admit it was fun watching that Alabama team stomp on us.
After that season COVID hit and there were some changes to the staff that led me to walk away from the team altogether. I cherish my memories working for the Western Carolina Football team but it was time for me to focus on what’s to come next. I could not tell you what’s in store for the future and where football will take me but I can assure you I am not done with the sport and somehow I will find my way back to it. For now, I will continue writing these articles, trying to sell some of these stickers (Visit our online store), and growing this website. Thank you all who have been consistently reading my content and supporting Ok Listen Here. Big things are coming soon for this small sports website!