When Arizona State fans bid adieu to the 14 seniors on the football team, they'll be reminded — again — of the program's struggle with stability, a prime reason the Sun Devils are in the Pac-10 cellar.
The group that will be honored in pregame ceremonies Friday looks nothing like the class that was announced on signing day in February 1999.
There are only four fifth-year seniors among the 14 players. And it's not because there were a half dozen players so talented they weren't redshirted and have now gone to the NFL.
No, the primary reason is attrition.
That recruiting class in '99 also included a whopping 15 junior college transfers. Since no more than five JCs can count back to the previous class, that means an investment was made in 10 players who'd be around for no more than three years, mostly just two.
The result of all this is the seniors have a disappointing four-year varsity record of 22-26 going into Friday's finale against arch-rival Arizona (2-9, 1-6 Pac-10) at Sun Devil Stadium. Add the 6-6 mark ASU had during its redshirt season and ASU's fifth-year seniors — offensive linemen Regis Crawford and Tony Aguilar, tight end Frank Maddox and defensive lineman Brian Montesanto — are 28-32.
The scholarship seniors, which include 2000 signees wide receiver Skyler Fulton, fullback Mike Karney and tailback Mike Williams, along with the fifth-year seniors, were all recruited by former coach Bruce Snyder.
Snyder was fired by athletic director Gene Smith in November 2000.
At the end of Snyder's tenure, the program was marked by a perpetual pattern of recruiting mistakes that had to be fixed by junior college transfers, which led to fewer high school signees, which resulted in fewer four-year players in the program.
With just 16 high-school signees, normal attrition all but guarantees a small senior class.
From the '99 group there were the academic problems (Brandon Tomerlin, Brandon Macias, and Ty Johnson), the problem children (Machtier Clay, Ben Fox), and the injured (Chad Howell, Damien Niko).
Plug in current seniors and JC transfers Tim Fa'aita for Macias and Niko, defensive tackle Shane Jones in a class that didn't produce a single interior defensive lineman, and safety-cornerback Brett Hudson for Tomerlin and Clay.
"As a program, we've done everything they need to do to keep them in here: study hours, help with academics," Crawford said. "A lot of these things are discipline issues and academic issues.
"Coaches can't be with us away from the field. They can't be in there taking tests for us. A lot of it is on the shoulders of the players. Accountability."
The attrition weakened positions in the secondary, offensive and defensive lines. Now they had to be replenished with junior college transfers.
This season's group representing the Class of 2003 looks nothing like what was presented to fans at the end of the 20th century.
Filling out the senior class are '01 JC transfer punter Tim Parker, and walk-ons linebacker Tyrone Bowers, cornerback Nick Elliott, and tailback Jermaine McKinney.
"The thing that has been most impressive for me is that they are, individually, on track to graduate," said ASU coach Dirk Koetter of the seniors. "Two out of the 14 are graduates already, but the other 12 are all on track."
"I think they're a solid group of guys," said quarterback Andrew Walter. "I've enjoyed playing with them and they've been great warriors. They come ready to go every week and they have my respect forever."
Warriors is an appropriate label because the fifth-year guys have been doing tough battling alone. So many in their group have fallen by the wayside.
By contrast, Washington State has nine fifth-year senior starters from its '99 recruiting class and a 10th who has started 19 games.
Having the class ranked in the top 13 by three recruiting services gave the university and fans hope of better than 6-6 mediocrity.
But of the 23 high school players signed, only five — Walter, center Drew Hodgdon, cornerback R.J. Oliver, defensive end Jimmy Verdon, and safety Riccardo Stewart — are assured of starting jobs next season.
The attrition casualties nearly double that figure. Gone are nine prospects — among them running back Derick Arnold, offensive lineman Brian Goggin, linebacker-tight end Eric Keefner and defensive lineman Josh Kirkwood.
"College football ain't for everybody," Crawford said. "Eventually you'll get weeded out if you don't love the game. A lot of guys chose a lot of other things over Arizona State."
After a troubling season, the attrition rate may increase, resulting in yet another small senior class in a year or two.
"I know that you do have to cut out the cancer, the bad people that bring down a program," said Jones, hinting at some internal changes for next year. "You don't need that around."
At some point, though, a senior class that leaves ASU will need to look more like the freshman class that came in five years prior.