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'It was a brotherhood': An oral history of Central Michigan’s historic 2009 season

Led by senior quarterback Dan LeFevour (middle), Central Michigan football players celebrate after winning the 2009 Mid-American Conference championship against Ohio on Dec. 4 at Ford Field. (Photo: CMU Athletics)

Quarterback Dan LeFevour, wide receiver Antonio Brown, cornerback Vince Agnew and kicker Andrew Aguila debated with each other once they took the stage near midfield following a GMAC Bowl victory celebration.

All four wanted the Most Valuable Player award.

The light-hearted conversation lasted roughly three minutes.

LeFevour completed 33 of 55 passes for 395 yards and one touchdown, along with a rushing score. Brown returned a kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown to start the comeback. Agnew blocked a field goal in the second overtime. 

As for Aguila, he scored 18 of the team's 44 points – including the game-winning field goal.

"Just joking and having those moments, those are the things you remember about college football," Aguila said. "I remember being with all the guys."

LeFevour, as a senior, won the MVP in the 44-41 double-overtime win.

It was moments like those that defined the 2009 Central Michigan football season. The enjoyment of each other went beyond the game. 

Even when the final whistle was blown, the camaraderie between the student-athletes on the roster continued, and it's something that remains evident amongst them a decade later.

"That team still means everything to me," LeFevour said.

Ten years have passed since then, but the legacy of that team lives on. This is the story of a season that is still discussed to this day, a season that’ll be discussed for the remainder of the program’s history:

Central Michigan entered the 2009 season with goals of winning every home game, making the AP Top 25, defeating Western Michigan and hoisting a Mid-American Conference championship and bowl game trophy.

Expectations were high, especially since the Chippewas already won MAC championships in 2006 and 2007. In the 2008 campaign under coach Butch Jones, the team faltered in the final three games of the season, of which the last was a 24-21 loss to Florida Atlantic in the Motor City Bowl.

But in Jones’ third and final year at the helm, Central Michigan’s players were poised to make 2009 a historic season – one that would never be forgotten.

Dan LeFevour, quarterback: "The season ended rough the year prior, so it wasn’t a great feeling. We had a lot of optimism, but we wanted to get that bad taste out of our mouth.”

Nick Bellore, linebacker: "We knew we had the capabilities of doing something special."

Andrew Aguila, kicker: "We had to take advantage of our power players that were coming up to age."

Bryan Anderson, wide receiver: "Our expectations were pretty darn high. We expected to compete for a MAC championship and go to a bowl game. We strived for those every year."

Jeff Maddux, offensive guard: "We were upset when we didn't win the 2008 championship. That started a great offseason. We had a lot of talent coming back."

Jake Olson, offensive tackle: "Everyone around the team, we knew who we were and what we wanted to do. We wanted to be as great as we could be."

The season opener against Arizona in Tucson was scheduled to begin at 7:07 p.m. GMT, a 10:07 p.m. ET start back home in Michigan.

Due to the lightning in the sky to the southeast and northeast on that 84-degree night, the game didn’t kick off until 10:50 p.m. ET, and it finished at 1:33 a.m. ET.

Maddux: "It was a weird game, altogether."

Anderson: "There was a lightning delay along with a three-hour time gap, so it was a weird game."

Aguila: "It was a weird game with the delay."

Bellore: "It's always a little weird when you have any kind of delay like that. The really far road trips can be pretty tough."

The Chippewas lost the game, 19-6, at Arizona Stadium, and it wasn’t even close. Central Michigan was down 16-0 until the 12:21 mark in the fourth quarter when LeFevour carried the ball 5 yards for a touchdown, but he fumbled the snap in the shotgun and was unable to convert the 2-point conversion.

With high hopes entering the season, an ugly opener came as a reality check for some.

Maddux: "We did alright, but the offense couldn't score."

LeFevour: “Watching the film of that game, I saw there were opportunities to win the game. I just didn’t play well. I took that very personally.”

Bellore: "Early in the season, it's always a little bit of a struggle offensively."

Anderson: "For us, as an offense, we saw how well our defense played. We knew it was a matter of time before our offense started clicking."

Olson: "We knew what we needed to fix."

Aguila: "I didn't have the best game against Arizona, so it was a chip on my shoulder."

Facing a winless start the 2009 campaign, Central Michigan had another test against a Power Five opponent. The Chippewas were the clear underdogs on paper and hadn’t beaten Michigan State since 1992. A loss would’ve likely derailed any opportunity at a Top 25 appearance.

While many on the outside doubted the veteran-led group, members of the team thought otherwise about their chances.

Bellore: "Coming out of the Arizona game, it was one that if we would've executed better here or there, we would've been right in it, if not winning the game. We were confident going into the Michigan State game."

LeFevour: “We knew we had a lot of talent entering the stadium that day. We just had to prove it.”

Olson: "We knew what we had, and we knew we could play against anyone. We weren't scared."

Anderson: "We had a great week of practice and preparation. We knew we had a shot. Man for man, across the board, we knew we could compete with that team."

Aguila: "It was the epitome of competition: I'm better than you until you prove me otherwise. It was more attainable because there were guys on both teams from the same areas around the country. On top of that, it was like, 'These guys didn't want me, but these guys did.' It was a proving ground type of game."

Anderson: "We were expecting to have a chance at the end, and we did."

LeFevour threw a 2-point conversion pass to Brown that was caught, but his feet landed out of bounds. A completed catch would’ve put the Chippewas ahead with 32 seconds left.

LeFevour: “We just missed by inches. It was a big letdown. I thought the game was over. Our wide receivers coach (Zach Azzanni) came over to me and said, ‘Hey, we got this. We’ll get the onside kick and win.’ I was like, ‘Yeah, maybe … or maybe not.’”

Aguila: "We still had momentum on the sideline. We had to be mentally prepared."

The senior specialist, Aguila, was brought on the field for an onside kick.

Maddux: "I thought there was no chance."

Aguila: "For me, it was kind of weird. The center judge was signaling Michigan State ball. I was looking at him, but everyone else was celebrating. I was like, 'We didn't get the kick.' All the coaches were like, 'We're good. (Bryan) just couldn't advance the ball forward.'"

Anderson: "There was a momentum shift when I recovered that. Yeah, we missed the 2-point conversion, but we got our chance. As soon as we had the ball, we had to move it into field goal range."

LeFevour: “Once that happened, there was no doubt in anyone’s mind that we were going to win. Perfect bounce, perfect catch. Everything was set up for us at that point.”

Olson: "I knew we were going to win that game."

Aguila: "Once the kick happened, it was about Dan doing what he had done all day and moving the ball 30 yards."

Central Michigan kicker Andrew Aguila kicks a last second field goal against Michigan State on Sept. 12, 2009, at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing.

Down 27-26 with three seconds left, it came down to Aguila’s 42-yard field goal attempt.

LeFevour: “It was out of my hands at that point. It was all on the leg of our kicker from California. I had all the confidence in the world in him. He made a lot of big kicks before that.”

Anderson: "He was a phenomenal kicker. I had no doubt he was going to make that kick."

Bellore: "We always trusted him to make it."

Maddux: "I was just praying, actually. It's very rare they get blocked, but I was just praying he'd make it."

Aguila: “When I contacted the ball, I swear I hooked it."

The ball went through the uprights.

Aguila: “The ball went left and never came back right. It just snuck inside the post.”

Olson: "It was a blast. My most memorable moments are from that game. I knew we accomplished something that shocked everyone, but we knew we could do it."

Maddux: "I still think about that game every week."

Bellore: "It was fun to ruin everyone's weekend in East Lansing. We didn't view it as much of an upset. I think we would've beaten any team in Michigan that year."

Aguila: "It was the biggest kick I made in my career to that point. It had the biggest stakes."

Central Michigan players carry head coach Butch Jones off the field after a win against Michigan State on Sept. 12, 2009, at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing.

The Chippewas followed the 29-27 victory over in-state foe Michigan State with a tune-up game against Alcorn State. It was a 48-0 blowout at Kelly/Shorts Stadium to prepare for the Mid-American Conference slate.

Anderson: "The first conference game of every year, it felt like the biggest game to start things off right. Every conference game counts. You really can't slip up."

Maddux: "We had more talent than any of the MAC teams. Just the people we had coming back and work we put in."

Aguila: "It was important to win every home game. Everything just seemed like business as usual. We were expecting to win every game, especially when someone was coming into our house."

Olson: "We had our goals in mind. We wanted to win the MAC and had to take it step-by-step."

Central Michigan did just that in a 48-21 takedown of Akron. LeFevour accounted for 337 total yards and six touchdowns.

Maddux: "Rainy, stormy day. We started out slow. I looked at LeFevour in the huddle and said, 'Just start running with your legs.' He just took over, had like 27 touchdowns that game."

Bellore: "There was a lot of excitement around campus. To start off and take care of business like that was huge."

LeFevour: "I don't think we had a close game in the conference that year. We just ran away with it pretty easily. It solidified everything we already knew – that we were the best team in the conference."

After beating Buffalo by seven points, taking back-to-back wins against in-state opponents was the next step in the process. The first was a 56-8 victory against Eastern Michigan at Kelly/Shorts Stadium, and the latter was a rivalry clash with Western Michigan on the road.

Olson: "I was recruited by both schools. Once I stepped foot on campus, I knew who our rival was. I hate Western."

Aguila: "I remember how big of a game that was. Jones would always compare teams, like, 'Western Michigan just redid their indoor and weight room. They think they have everything going on.' We just had to go in and beat them up."

Maddux: "We knew that was a big game. Every year with Western, it doesn't matter how good you are."

Aguila: "There were all the guest speakers that came in and spoke about how much they hated Western. Then, obviously, all the pee and poop colors. I remembered that."

Anderson: "I remember making a couple catches and getting hit pretty hard on a slant route. I had to come out for a couple of plays. Bellore had an interception in that game. I was pumped, and that was a big turning point."

Bellore: "It's a sore subject because I got chased down and tackled at the 5-yard line. I'd like to think I was just trying to pad LeFevour's stats."

LeFevour: "It was a big win, but it was common practice for us at that point. Four in a row. Just an old trick for us."

Central Michigan senior quarterback Dan LeFevour throws a pass against Troy in the 2010 GMAC Bowl at Ladd-Peebles Stadium in Mobile, Alabama. (Photo: CMU Athletics)

The 34-23 win against Western Michigan meant more to everyone on the roster. And for the seniors, it marked a clean sweep of the Broncos.

LeFevour: "You can ask them (what it meant). It was just normal for us."

Anderson: "That was pretty special. Western had pretty good squads all four years. From a wide receiver standpoint, they had (safety) Louis Delmas and the gang. That was the best defensive back corps in the conference – by far."

Aguila: "Winning the rivalry four years in a row was a highlight in my career. It was huge."

Bellore: "It was huge to get that for the seniors, but none of us ever wanted to lose to those guys."

Riding a seven-game winning streak, there was no slowing down Central Michigan – until a 31-10 loss to Boston College on the road at Alumni Stadium.

LeFevour: "That one was a shock. Antonio got hurt. I came out with a migraine at halftime. I honestly thought we were going to win that game, but we weren't full strength. It refocused us."

Anderson: "We didn't have our main starting group of guys on offense to help us put up points."

Aguila: "Dan was out some of that game. The offense felt a little different. With Dan being out, that threw a bigger challenge, so it was tough."

Bellore: "It was probably a good thing for us. We had been rolling. That game made us take a step back and realize there was stuff we needed to work on if we wanted to do what we wanted to do that season."

Olson: "It was kind of a wake-up call. We knew we could play with them."

Maddux: "It fueled us. We had our confidence, went in there and got our butts whooped. It put us in our place."

Anderson: "At that point, we were striving to be in the Top 25. That loss took some air out of our sails. We thought that goal wasn't going to be accomplished with two losses. It was disheartening."

Winning three games to finish the regular season, the Chippewas were tasked with dismantling Ohio in the MAC championship at Ford Field in Detroit. A win would've made it three titles in four years.

Bellore: "We looked at that as our second home field. We knew we'd have a great crowd and a ton of support. There was never a doubt with us. We felt pretty good."

Maddux: "I remember four weeks prior, we were watching Ohio when they started taking over the East (Division). We sat there and watched. It was nothing we couldn't handle."

Olson: "We were there to win it. Some of my greatest memories happened at that game. Ford Field was so hot."

Anderson: "We were controlled. We knew if we played our best football, we'd be able to beat Ohio. There was pressure in being perfect. Throughout our careers, we got good at not beating ourselves."

Aguila: "We were all expecting the same type of slugfest that was happening for the past few years. We knew it'd be a fight."

Bellore: "Obviously, that was a tough team we played."

Central Michigan football players celebrate with fans after winning the 2009 Mid-American Conference championship against Ohio on Dec. 4 at Ford Field. (Photo: CMU Athletics)

Central Michigan won that game, 20-10, and it's the last time the program has taken the MAC championship trophy home to Mount Pleasant.

LeFevour: "It was a big deal. The seniors knew it was our second to last game. That was the reason we came back that year. It solidified the reason we put in the work."

Anderson: "Those are the moments you remember the most – being able to celebrate on the field and wearing a championship hat."

Aguila: "To go through and win at the end, it was emotional. Everything we worked for came to fruition at the end. To me, it's indescribable."

Throwing a pair of touchdowns in the championship victory, LeFevour set an NCAA Division I record with 148 combined touchdowns passing, rushing and receiving. He passed Hawaii's Colt Brennan (2007) and Graham Harrell (2008) and later finished his career with 150 total.

LeFevour: "It was cool at the time, but freakin' Case Keenum broke it nine months later. Obviously, we ran an offense that allowed me to score a lot of touchdowns. A lot of guys like Antonio and Bryan caught the ball and ran for 80 yards to score. It was enjoyable."

In the time between winning the MAC championship and CMU's bowl game, the Chippewas were ranked No. 25 in the AP Top 25 poll. It's the only time the program has ever been ranked.

Aguila: "There was a huge feeling tied to that. Guys were waiting to get in the Top 25 since the 2006 season. When it got announced in the team meeting, there were cheers all around."

Anderson: "Being from a non-Power Five conference team, you have to almost be perfect to make the Top 25. It was something we wanted to do for years."

Olson: "That was awesome. You don't get that a lot from smaller schools. People underestimated us. People didn't want to respect us, but we played the same game."

Maddux: "We were on our high horse."

Bellore: "We all felt proud. We knew in that time period we'd have a shot at being ranked."

LeFevour: "In the same breath, if we lose the GMAC Bowl, that goes away pretty quickly. We knew we had to finish it the right way."

Entering the GMAC Bowl on Jan. 6 against Troy in Mobile, Alabama, Central Michigan was without Jones, who took a different head coaching job at Cincinnati. Instead of Jones, it was defensive line coach Steve Stripling leading the group into battle.

LeFevour: "It was a different atmosphere with an interim head coach. It's kind of like the substitute teacher. We had a veteran guy in place with coach Stripling. He'd been around the block a few times. It was a looser atmosphere. We wanted to end the year the right way. It was the last time we'd all be together."

Bellore: "We knew it was going to be a tough game, and it was close to a home game for those guys, but we had too much experience and momentum."

Anderson: "Anybody can beat you, especially in a bowl game. That was a pretty good Troy team."

Olson: "We were a team that was never going to stop fighting."

Aguila: "The emotions of that game are still there for me."

Central Michigan junior wide receiver Antonio Brown returns a kick 95 yards to cut the Chippewas' deficit to 31-26 against Troy in the fourth quarter of the 2010 GMAC Bowl at Ladd-Peebles Stadium in Mobile, Alabama. (Photo: CMU Athletics)

Trailing 31-19 in the fourth quarter, Brown returned a kickoff 95 yards for a score, trimming the deficit to five points with 7:47 remaining.

Maddux: "Antonio took over."

Anderson: "I was on the sideline for that kick return. Every time a team would kick him the ball, we knew there was a shot. I remember seeing him go on the opposite sideline from us. He made one cut and sprint out the other side. I knew he was gone."

Bellore: "If you can get a score on special teams, statistically, you're going to win almost all the time. That changed the whole game."

Aguila: "He was always a force to be reckoned with in special teams. That was a huge return that turned the momentum back to us."

Olson: "AB always came to play. He was amazing."

LeFevour: "It's always good to score points when the offense isn't on the field."

The Chippewas took the lead, 34-31, as LeFevour connected with Anderson for a 4-yard touchdown with 1:17 left in the bowl game.

Anderson: "It was a difficult catch. I remember thinking that I thought I caught it, but I wasn't sure if it hit the ground. I dropped pretty darn low. I was 99% sure. That was one of the most important 4-yard catches of my career."

Aguila: "It was a fingertip grab right past the goal line."

LeFevour: "I thought we did it. I thought we sealed the win."

Maddux: "Yeah, I thought we were fine."

Olson: "You know how it is with football. It's not over until it's over."

Bellore: "We could've closed the game out, but that would've been too easy. We had to make it a little more exciting for people."

A 46-yard field goal from Troy kicker Michael Taylor with 31 seconds to go sent the game to overtime, tied at 34.

Aguila: "The guy barely made it over the crossbar."

LeFevour: "They weren't done, either. It made for that much of a better finish."

Anderson: "That's just a part of the game. We didn't feel so high to the point that it was deflating. It was just, 'OK, this is the next step.' We practiced a lot of those scenarios, so we were comfortable."

Bellore: "It was just a matter of time. I always felt like our offense was going to explode. As a defensive player, it was reassuring."

After LeFevour and Troy running back Shawn Southward traded rushing touchdowns, Agnew blocked a field goal to give the Chippewas a chance to win. Once again, just like so many times in his career, it came down to Aguila's leg from 37 yards in double overtime.

Aguila: "I remember hitting the kick, looking up, and (offensive lineman) Colin (Miller) came running behind and picked me up. Everyone just surrounded me, and I was carried off the field. I can't describe how amazing that felt."

Bellore: "He was so clutch for us and won us so many games. He just did what he always had done for us."

LeFevour: "He channeled his inner-Aguila and made the season end the right way."

Olson: "We left everything we had on the field that day. That was the greatest accomplishment of the season."

Anderson: "That was the final play of my college football career, so it was the way I wanted to end it."

Bellore: "Probably the craziest game I've ever played in. To have it come out like that to cap the season off was incredible."

Aguila: "It was phenomenal." 

For almost everyone on the roster, the 2009 season was the most memorable moment of their entire football career.

LeFevour was selected in the sixth round of the 2010 NFL Draft by the Chicago Bears and played professionally in the NFL and Canadian Football League from 2010-17 before announcing his retirement. He's been back to Mount Pleasant on multiple occasions.

"I love coming back," LeFevour said. "It's always a great feeling to come home."

Following the 2009 campaign, Bellore played one more season for the Chippewas before going undrafted. He was quickly picked up by the New York Jets and has been active in the NFL ever since. He's currently a member of the Seattle Seahawks as a fullback.

"We'll all be connected by that season forever," Bellore said. "If you ask any of them, it doesn't get better than those times in college. I could see a guy that I haven't seen since I was a sophomore in college, and we could pick up where we left off. I'd just be like 2009 all over again."

Aguila never played football again, but he is now a lead in the Samuel Oschin Cancer Center at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, California.

"I had a whole second family with guys I love," Aguila said. "Even though I'm back in California and some people don't know where Central Michigan is, when I was there, we were one of the more dominant teams in college football. It's an amazing feeling to know I'll be a part of school history for as long as CMU is around."

Anderson wasn't selected in the 2010 NFL Draft, but he signed a free-agent contract with the New England Patriots. He was cut less than two months later and was again cut by the Omaha Nighthawks of the United Football League in late August 2010.

The former wide receiver now works for Spectrum Health Medical Group in Grand Rapids as a cardiothoracic surgery physician assistant. 

"Everybody on the team really enjoyed each other," Anderson said of the 2009 group. "That senior and junior class that year, we really meshed well."

Maddux played for the Chippewas in 2010, but he wasn't selected in the ensuing 2011 NFL Draft. Due to the lockout, players couldn't report to training camp or get picked up as free agents. He turned to the Arena Football League and played six games for the Cleveland Gladiators before being added by the Detroit Lions.

The former offensive guard, after an ankle injury with the Lions, played for the Chicago Rush (2013), Arizona Rattlers (2014) and San Jose SaberCats (2015) before retiring.

Even though Maddux won two ArenaBowl championships, that 2009 season in college meant the most.

"With every team I've played on since, I've tried to tell people, 'If we can get close like that team was, then we'll win no matter what,'" Maddux said. "Those are my brothers for the rest of my life. I went through a lot with those guys."

Olson was a starting redshirt freshman when the 2009 season occurred, and he continued playing for the Chippewas until 2013. He was not selected in the 2014 NFL Draft but earned tryout opportunities with the Lions and Miami Dolphins.

He was not signed to an NFL roster and played from 2014-16 with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the CFL before retiring.

Like all the others, the 2009 campaign was Olson's most memorable.

"That was my favorite year of football," Olson said. "Everyone was at my wedding. It was a brotherhood. We never broke.

"We all busted our tails to do what we did. Everyone took pride in it."

Central Michigan football’s 2009 team is honored Oct. 12 at Kelly/Shorts Stadium.