Dotting the Carroll College practice fields ahead of the football season, players and coaches have been wearing a grey T-shirt with purple lettering across the back that reads “6 Seconds.”
A football fan may recognize the figure and understand its significance. Many consider it to be the average length of a play once the ball is snapped. The flurry of chaos -- 11 men standing in direct opposition of another 11 -- requires instincts and high-level decision making in order to be successful. Touchdowns and preventing touchdowns aren’t accidental, but rather fine forms of execution in a sport that requires both brutality and finesse.
Each football season, many teams create a slogan that best encapsulates them -- some much more thought-out and creative than others. Some have staying power, and resonate to larger audiences. Others are fleeting mantras, a string of words that describe each team’s current iteration. In Oregon, the Ducks fixate on Win The Day. You’d be hard-pressed to find a Texas fan that doesn’t gesture with a Hook 'Em Horns hand signal. Florida State has its chop, and surely by now you’re far too aware of Roll Tide. And so it goes. Regionally, coaches and athletic department work to find ways to get their young men to buy in.
While “6 Seconds” makes enough sense in and of itself, the story behind it goes well beyond the football field. Saints coach Mike Van Diest said there were a couple of reasons for it.
“An average play is six seconds. Can you give your heart and guts to your teammates six seconds, repeatedly, over the course of a game?”
The other reason, he called personal.
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Lance Cpl. Jordan Haerter and Cpl. Jonathan Yale, like other young men their age, served America during the Iraq War. Stationed in Ramadi at a ragtag barracks in 2008, the two were paired up, meeting for the first time and assigned to secure their perimeter, according to multiple reports.
A few minutes after they took their post, a vehicle barreled toward them.
In an instant, the Marines recognized the oncoming threat: A truck loaded with explosives blitzed their position, threatening 150 lives upon impact.
Rather than run, as reports indicated Iraqi police and others at the site did, statements further corroborated by security camera footage, the Marines held their position. Almost instantaneously, the two opened fire on the truck, killing the driver and halting the suicidal vehicle short of its target.
The truck exploded, killing the two heroes.
The Marines sacrificed their own lives to save 150 others. From analyzing the threat, to immediately responding and putting themselves at greater danger for the protection of their peers, Yale and Haerter put themselves on the line for others, all in matter of six seconds.
General John Kelly retold the tale at a speech in 2010.
“You can watch the last six seconds of their young lives,” an online transcription of Kelly’s speech reads. “Putting myself in their heads, I supposed it took about a second for the two Marines to separately come to the same conclusion about what was going on once the truck came into their view at the far end of the alley. Exactly no time to talk it over, or call the sergeant to ask what they should do. Only enough time to take half an instant and think about what the sergeant told them to do only a few minutes before: “ … let no unauthorized personnel or vehicles pass.”
“It took maybe another two seconds for them to present their weapons, take aim, and open up. By this time, the truck was halfway through the barriers and gaining speed. Here the recording shows a number of Iraqi police, some of whom had fired their AKs, now scattering like the normal and rational men they were, some running right past the Marines, who had three seconds left to live. For about two seconds more, the recording shows the Marines firing their weapons nonstop. The truck’s windshield explodes into shards of glass as their rounds take it apart and tear into the body of the son of a bitch trying to get past them to kill their brothers -- American and Iraqi -- bedded down in the barracks, totally unaware that their lives at that moment depended entirely on two Marines standing their ground. Yale and Haerter never hesitated. By all reports and by the recording, they never stepped back. They never even shifted their weight. With their feet spread shoulder-width apart, they leaned into the danger, firing as fast as they could. They had only one second left to live, and I think they knew. The truck explodes. The camera goes blank. Two young men go to their God. Six seconds. Not enough time to think about their families, their country, their flag, or about their lives or their deaths, but more than enough time for two very brave young men to do their duty.”
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Van Diest occasionally reads stories of such magnitude to find motivation and additional perspective. Each summer he deliberates over a new phrase that he hopes sparks the Saints. The sacrifice of Haerter and Yale was the right fit.
“They were 22 and 20 years old, just like members of our football team,” Van Diest said. “There are some similarities, but it ends right there in terms of what they gave their lives for and what we do on Saturday afternoon.
“I don’t ever, ever refer to a football game as war. We’re not in a war. We’re in a battle or a fight, minimal. Not a war. What they do overseas is war. For me, it would be disrespectful to say our players are at war when those guys are over there putting their lives on the line. We’re not putting our lives on the line.”
Van Diest, whose father served in World War II, stationed in the Philippines, appreciates America’s military. He’s coached players who also serve in the ROTC and come from military families. It’s not uncommon for the military to be acknowledged and recognized before Saints football games on Saturdays at Nelson Stadium.
“I do like some military analogies in terms of beyond the football field and what people do, and the decisions they have to make,” Van Diest said. “It hit home to me.”
A football game is made up of 60 minutes. Inside it, myriad chances to sacrifice for their teammates in six-second bursts.
The Saints won’t be counting their seconds this season.
They’ll make the seconds count.