The Tulane football team’s 10 scholarship seniors have been anything but tin men in their time on campus.
They haven’t won as much as they wanted, but all of them have been key contributors for large chunks of their careers. When they enter Yulman Stadium for Saturday’s home finale against Houston, they will try to soak up the atmosphere as much as they can while maintaining their focus on the big picture.
Tulane (4-6, 2-4 American Athletic Conference), 9-14 at home during the past four years, needs to beat Houston (6-3, 4-2) to keep its bowl hopes alive before traveling to SMU on Nov. 25.
“It’s a crazy feeling,” linebacker Rae Juan Marbley said. “I remember coming in here and running out of the tunnel for the Georgia Tech game, the opening game of Yulman Stadium (in 2014) and the stadium being packed. I definitely have good memories of my teammates and all the wins and the tough losses that we have.
“The things I’ve learned in this stadium are going to make me a better person and a better man. This place is a real special place. I love Yulman Stadium.”
Marbley saved his best for last, making a team-high 80 tackles this season while starting every game at middle linebacker after starting three times in his first three seasons. He is just one of eight productive seniors on defense.
Cornerback Parry Nickerson, who has started 44 of a possible 46 games since 2014, is chasing former teammate Lorenzo Doss for second place on Tulane’s all-time interceptions list. His spectacular, diving interception against East Carolina last Saturday was his 14th, one behind Doss and four behind record-holder Paul Ellis.
Nickelback Jarrod Franklin has started every game since the beginning of his sophomore season, ranking among the top three on the team in tackles each year. His 233 career stops are the most of anyone on the roster.
Nose tackle Sean Wilson will start for the 34th time Saturday, including all but one game in the past two years. Remarkably consistent, he finished with 29, 29 and 26 tackles in his first three seasons and is right on pace with 23 this time.
Defensive end Ade Aruna, who has started 32 of the past 34 games, played well against East Carolina last Saturday. saving a probable touchdown with a fourth-down deflection and making four tackles. His numbers are down as he adjusts to playing inside more often in a new three-man front, but he has 12 career sacks.
Linebacker Luke Jackson, who overcame testicular cancer as a true freshman, is turning that back story into a footnote rather than the lead item. Having started six times this year, he leads Tulane in sacks with 3 1/2, and his 43 tackles are nearly double his total of 23 through 2016.
End/outside linebacker Quinlan Carroll has started seven times after emerging as a factor off the bench in 2016. His 19 tackles this season are one more than his career total entering the year.
Defensive end Eldrick Washington was on course to start every game this season before tearing an ACL against Florida International. He had a career-high 20 tackles in a reserve role as a junior.
While all of the senior defensive players have been important, running back Dontrell Hilliard is the most accomplished. His first carry against Houston could give him 1,000 yards, something no Tulane running back has done since Andre Anderson in 2009. He is 146 yards shy of 3,000 for his career, joining an even more exclusive club of Mewelde Moore, Matt Forte and Eddie Price.
“My freshman year, I never would have thought it would come this fast,” Hilliard said. “My emotions are kind of everywhere, kind of excited and kind of like, this is my last home game. It's definitely all over the place.”
Backfield mate Sherman Badie never reproduced the magic of his first career game — a 215-yard effort against Tulsa — but he has played steadily since then. He is second to Hilliard among Tulane running backs with 323 yards this year, starting three times.
With all of that experience on the field, the seniors would love to experience something no departing class at Tulane has accomplished since 2013 — winning on Senior Day. Not coincidentally, that also was the last time the Wave went to a bowl game.
"I want to leave my legacy here and have a great last (home) game so it’s a memorable moment for me,” Nickerson said. “It would be great to beat Houston to finish this phenomenal time I had at Tulane with the seniors that I came in with.”
Even if they fail, this group will leave as winners in every other respect.
“They’ve really done a lot of great things at Tulane,” coach Willie Fritz said. “There are only two guys who are going to graduate in May. The rest of them are going to be done in December or they’ve already graduated. They are going to have a lot of success down the road with that Tulane degree.”
Walk-on long snapper Aaron Golub and walk-on defensive tackle Paul Staudinger also will participate in Senior Day. Golub snapped for an extra point against Central Florida in 2015, becoming the first legally blind player to play in a college football game. … No redshirt junior planning to skip his final year of eligibility will be allowed in the ceremony. Said Fritz: “It’s all based on what you tell us at the beginning of the year, not at the end of the year.”