January 08, 2014 - When Michigan State University won the Rose Bowl in 1988, Neil Maskill wasn't even alive.
Neil Maskill, a 2010 Oxford graduate, poses with the coveted Rose Bowl trophy following the Michigan State Spartans' 24-20 win over Stanford Jan. 1. Photo provided. (click for larger version)
The 2010 Oxford High School graduate is representative of an entire generation that never saw the Spartans travel to Pasadena, let alone return victorious.
But that all changed on Jan. 1 as Maskill stood proudly on the sidelines and watched MSU beat Stanford 24-20.
"It's as if it was a dream," said the 22-year-old MSU senior. "It's surreal that it actually happened. In college football, there's no other game that can be compared to the Rose Bowl. It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."
Maskill never caught a touchdown pass, made a tackle or even put on a uniform, but he played a vital role in the Spartans' magical 13-1 season as a student assistant.
Maskill spent the last three years setting up and participating in practice drills, helping players warm up prior to games and illustrating plays on a whiteboard as the coach addressed players on the sidelines following a series.
"I feel like (student assistants) are actually very important to the organization and the preparation aspect of the game," he said.
During the 2011 and 2012 seasons, Maskill worked with defensive backs. This past season he worked with the quarterbacks.
"It's been a blessing, definitely," he said.
Given the Spartans' began the 2013 season as an unranked team and went into the Rose Bowl a 6Ĺ-point underdog to Stanford, Maskill said the victory was particularly satisfying.
"Both teams coming into the game had a combined record of 23 wins and 3 losses, so it was going to be a fight either way," he said. "It's all about heart. You've got to believe in yourself and believe in what you've been doing."
He gives a lot of credit to MSU Head Coach Mark Dantonio for getting the Spartans to Pasadena after a 26-year drought. "He strives for excellence," said Maskill, who noted Dantonio's very humble and personable.
"He's someone you want to be around."
During the Rose Bowl, Maskill got the opportunity to chat with Brent Musburger. The legendary American sportscaster gave the young man a brief history of this classic game that dates back to 1902.
The Rose Bowl was the first post-season football game in the nation. It was the first sporting event to be broadcast nationally on the radio in 1927. It was the first college football game to be nationally televised in 1952 and nationally televised in color in 1962.
"Having all that background and then actually being there was just something special," Maskill said.
Maskill was especially grateful that he was able to share the Rose Bowl experience with supportive loved ones like his parents Don and Carol Maskill, his younger brother OHS senior Wesley Maskill, and his girlfriend Sierrah Macocha, also an Oxford graduate.
"Just knowing they were there for me, and have been the whole time, made it even more special," he said.
After the game, when roses were being handed out, Maskill got two, one for his mother and one for his girlfriend.
Maskill's been using his student assistant position to garner experience and build connections that he hopes will lead to a career in either professional or college football. His dream is to someday become a general manager or head of football operations.
Over the summer, he interned with the Detroit Lions where he was involved in football operations and player development.
When he graduates from MSU in May, he'll receive a bachelor's degree in general management. He plans to eventually pursue a master's degree in sports administration.
No stranger to sports, Maskill played baseball and football for Oxford and took to the mat as a Wildcat wrestler.
CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.