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Kieren Duncan: Celebration of Champions an experience he won’t soon forget

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Kieren Duncan (left) signs autographs at the Celebration of Champions. Photo by Dustin Cox.
Kieren Duncan (left) signs autographs with his teammate Jarred Radebaugh at the Celebration of Champions. Photo by Dustin Cox.

National champions. I still don’t think the magnitude of that achievement has fully hit me yet, and most players feel the same way.

It was such a surreal feeling after the game. The moments of celebration as confetti rained from the sky, where tears were shed, and where players embraced the family they’ve sweated and bled with for the last six months will never be forgotten or ever cease to feel like a dream.

However, the Celebration of Champions parade drove home the fact that this accomplishment was much more than fantasy.

I didn’t know what to expect as the team loaded the buses and departed for the Rawlings Library in downtown Pueblo. Personally, I’ve never achieved anything as big as this, and I know I’m not alone in saying that.

I mean, we are talking about a national championship. Not a conference title, not an NCAA bowl game but being crowned the best Division II football team in all of America. Again, it still doesn’t feel real.

Stepping off the bus, we were greeted by two floats covered in CSU-Pueblo’s red and blue colors and three beautiful trophies: the Division II NCAA National Championship trophy, the Coaches’ Trophy and a trophy from the National Football Hall of Fame Foundation.

Our 16 graduating seniors took their place on one float, and the rest of the starting roster filled up the other. It didn’t take long for the team to break out in dances and cheers before the engines revved up and the parade was underway.

As we made our way along the streets, the band’s music at our backs, we saw fans scattered on both sides of the road.

Applause and cheers came from the light trickle of fans nearest the library, and I thought to myself, “Well it did snow a couple days ago. Plus it’s a Friday at 4 p.m. so maybe people are still working,” trying to rationalize the nearly empty sidewalks running parallel to the floats.

“Just be appreciative of who showed up,” I told myself.

And then we heard it. The low rumble of cheers and applause in the distance. The wheels of the float gave a small bump as they rolled onto Memorial Bridge, and we were able to put faces and bodies to the cheering. Hundreds, quite possibly thousands, of voices all ringing out in appreciation and excitement of what we did as a football team and as a school.

As the floats drove deeper downtown into the thick of the parade, I was able to make out familiar faces. Fans, teachers, fellow students and athletes, seniors in the community, young kids, police officers, veterans; every demographic in Pueblo was represented. All of these people yelling, screaming, jumping up and down, as the enthusiastic cheering surrounded us. I found myself having to raise my voice in order to talk to my teammate Jarred, who was sitting right next to me.

“I love this city!” yelled freshman wide receiver Deshon Williams. A smile crept up my face as I realized he was right.

Pueblo isn’t necessarily known for its overwhelming population, but it blew me away. The amount of support and enthusiasm that was conveyed through the community was incredible.

I could tell how much this championship meant to this city, and as a player I was overcome with a strong sense of pride. This was our town, and you could tell we had done something that had never been done before and something this city would never forget.

After a brief ceremony where President Di Mare and a few premiere seniors spoke and thanked the fans and the community, the players were moved outside to a tent where fans could get autographs and photos of their favorite players.

I’ve never felt like a celebrity or been one to necessarily think of in the spotlight. However, seeing the amount of fans who came to the signing party asking for our autographs made us feel special.

I took photos with kids who later tagged me in them on Instagram. I had fans thanking me and fellow players for the positive influence we have on their children. I even had a man shake my hand claiming his football season had been made because he met me.

The whole experience was ironically humbling. It let us know that we play this game for us, yes, but it means so much more to some people who we’ve never even met.

Alumni are proud of us, and kids want to emulate how we are on and off the field. It’s an incredible amount of responsibility and pride that, until that moment, you don’t completely realize the magnitude of.

The community came out in a huge way with electric energy and unrivaled support and pride. We are truly “Pueblo Proud”. It’s for this reason why I, now a part of our team’s senior class, can personally promise and guarantee that no senior will be satisfied until we bring that trophy home again next year.