Final Go Around

<b>Michael Boulware</b> knows his collegiate career is coming to a close. He's trying not to think about it, however. There's still plenty left to accomplish this season. North Carolina State is Saturday. The Florida Gators are quickly approaching. A bowl game remains. "We still have so much to be excited about," Boulware said and smiled.

Boulware is one of 12 Florida State seniors who will play their final game in Doak Campbell Stadium Saturday. Although out of a national championship for the third consecutive season, one of the season's main goals is within reach -- the Atlantic Coast Conference title and accompanying Bowl Championship Series berth.

FSU's senior class can accomplish both against an old friend in N.C. State coach Chuck Amato, a former FSU assistant who has a soft spot in his heart for a Seminole group that has experienced its share of good and bad times.

"Unfortunately for those youngsters, they've happened to be there when the law of averages took over," Amato said.

"Fourteen years of 10 of more victories. Fourteen years of finishing in the Top 5 or above (in final polls). That can't go on forever. It just can't. Anybody would have loved to have played in a BCS bowl like they did last year (Sugar Bowl). And they came within two dropped passes of winning it (against Georgia).

"The year before, they played in the Gator Bowl (against Virginia Tech) and won it. People would die to go to those bowls. They'd die to win eight, nine games. I feel sorry for them (seniors). They just happened to be there at that time. But they'll always remember their memories and the mere fact they were coached by a man (Bobby Bowden) who will probably wind up with the most victories in Division 1."

The soft-spoken Boulware just shakes his head when thinking about the Seminoles' missed chances, especially this season. FSU lost in a rainstorm at home to Miami and then buckled under a firestorm of emotion at Clemson last Saturday, knocking the third-ranked Seminoles from title contention for good.

"It's disappointing because our goal every year is to win a national title and we came up short," Boulware said.

Although Boulware injured his left ankle at Clemson and barely practiced this week, he expects to start against the Wolfpack. N.C. State is paced by quarterback Philip Rivers, who can throw it around with the best quarterbacks in the country.

"I will be able to play. I am in minor pain but hopefully by Saturday it will be gone and I will be ready to go," Boulware said.

"I am not going to take anything for granted. I am going to try to savor every moment. It's my last time in Doak Campbell. My last time playing in front of these fans. I am excited but at the same time I am kind of sad. Still, there's a lot of things that have been said about our team (this week). Our guys are going to be pumped up."

It goes without saying Boulware wants the senior class to end a positive note.

They've been to national title games but also have dropped more games than any senior class in 17 seasons. They dealt with the death of a teammate (Devaughn Darling would have been a senior this season) and were fragmented by a quarterback controversy. But they've also seen coach Bobby Bowden become the all-time winningest coach in Division I-A history.

As fellow senior linebacker Kendyll Pope walked towards the locker room following Thursday's practice, he paused momentarily to stare out towards the field. The turf was dark green. The stadium lights were turned on.

It was hauntingly quiet.

It won't be that way Saturday.

"I can't believe this is going to be my last game in this stadium and in front of our fans," Pope said. "And then we get to end the regular-season down in The Swamp against Florida. Yeah, it's going to be emotional. We still have so much to fight for.

"As seniors, we just have to regroup, pull everyone together as a team and not let anyone hold their heads down. We're still fighting for something big and that's an ACC championship. It's on our shoulders."

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