CEDAR FALLS — One last Monday walk-through practice. One last Friday night film session with coaches. One last guaranteed game inside the UNI-Dome.
When a team is deeply involved in the process of maximizing every opportunity it has, there is no time to stop, take a step back and reflect.
That may have been the case Monday for the University of Northern Iowa’s ninth-ranked football team.
Panther head coach Mark Farley had stop and think about his answer. Four-year regulars like Jaylin James and Trevor Allen took steps back and deep breaths of surprise.
“Actually it didn’t sink in until you just asked,” said Allen, UNI’s multi-threat running back from Waukee, when asked if had thought about the possibility that Monday’s practice could be his last Monday practice.
The son of all-time Panther great Andre Allen and the younger brother of former UNI safety A.J. Allen recovered quickly.
“I think it is like a lot of former players before me, it goes by quick,” said Trevor Allen, who enters Saturday’s game with 2,311 career yards rushing and receiving. “It feels like just a couple of weeks ago we were in fall camp. It comes up quick. It has been a fun ride.
“But we are not done yet. We still have to win that last game.”
At 7-4 overall, UNI is probably already a lock for the 24-team FCS playoff field prior to its 1 p.m. kickoff against Western Illinois (1-10) Saturday at the UNI-Dome on Senior Day.
Twelve seniors will be playing in their final regular-season home game.
“I honestly don’t know what to say about it,” said James of Des Moines, who has 111 career receptions for 1,290 yards. “I’ll probably do the same thing I do every week and try to get one percent better and prepare for the next opponent, really.”
When the names Allen and James, whose brother Xavier also played at UNI, were brought up to Farley, it brought out a big smile.
“When you mention Jaylin James and Trevor Allen ... that is like mentioning family because they have been around so long with their dads and brothers,” Farley said. “Those names have been part of our program for a multitude of years. So, it is not just another senior walking out the door, it is kind of a generation of families completing their turn here.”
Had Farley had time during his weekly press conference, he could’ve come up with similar stories honoring players like Council Bluffs native and offensive guard Jackson Scott-Brown, who will start his 45th consecutive game Saturday, a record for a Panther offensive lineman.
There are also guys like defensive end Seth Thomas, defensive back Christian Jegen, wide receiver Aaron Graham and quarterback Christian Ellsworth.
“They are a lot of guys who have meant a lot and have played a lot of football here,” Farley said. “What is great about them all is they are all in tune with how we do stuff and kind of lead that charge.”
The seniors understand there is a decent chance the Panthers could receive a national seed for the playoffs if they close with a victory over the Leathernecks and some other teams in contention stumble in the final weekend of FCS play.
With or without a top eight seed, there is also the possibility that UNI could host a first-round playoff game Thanksgiving weekend, but the Panthers don’t want to leave anything to chance.
“Just play all out,” James said. “This is the last time for sure to be playing in the UNI-Dome on a Saturday. Just play all out and give everything you’ve got because you have done it for the past four years. Do it one more time for sure and see what happens from there.”
If there is one common thread among the 12 seniors, Allen summed it up best.
“I’m not going to lie. A whole bunch that rushes up on me ... so many on and off the field memories with my teammates,” Allen said. “I’m happy I came here. I’m happy I have been a Panther my whole life and I just want to end on a high note.”