This is the why, right off the top, from Fresno State's Ejiro Ederaine: "When we won the first championship, it was such a feeling."
And the junior linebacker only gets more worked up from there.
"It was like having a kid. I'm young," he said. "I don't actually have any kids. But the first championship was my kid. Parents always say you'll never love anything as much as your first kid. And then we got our second kid, because we won back-to-back, and then you're like, 'Ah, man, I didn't think I could love anything as much as my first kid.' But now, going after the third one, it's all I can think about. It keeps me up at night …"
That's it, and it's right there.
A victory on Saturday against Hawaii clinches the Western Division of the Mountain West Conference and the Bulldogs' shot at a third consecutive title, and that is why Ederaine will be out on the field with two damaged shoulders, both of which will require surgery at the end of the season.
The number of snaps he plays week to week is down, the production with it, and, yes, there are times it hurts — the left shoulder or the right shoulder, maybe both.
"It seems like just about every game, there's a certain point where it does pop out and he has to take some plays off, bite on a bullet, and then he goes right back in," coach Tim DeRuyter said.
But, this close, the choices are easy.
"If I can go, I go," Ederaine said. "I have another year. I'm doing it for Karl (Mickelsen), for Derron (Smith), for (Donavon Lewis) because we envisioned a long time ago this third ring and it's been a roller coaster season, at some point he thought, 'Dang, man, we really worked our butts off and we weren't going to have that opportunity.' But we fought and clawed our way back in and now we have this … we have the simplest task.
"All we have to do is win. All we have to do is win the next two weeks."
Ederaine, who signed with Fresno State in the same recruiting class as Mickelsen, Smith, Lewis, Tyeler Davison and the Bulldogs' other seniors but came in as a grayshirt and didn't enroll in school until the following spring, figures to play a large role in any victory. He has played two of his better games of the season in the past two outings — wins over San Jose State and at Nevada.
The shoulder injuries limit his range of motion and the situations he is put on the field. But he was credited with two unassisted tackles at Nevada. Despite being limited since the start of the season (he hurt one shoulder before the season, the other in Week 5 at New Mexico), he is tied for second on the team with 7.5 tackles for loss.
Ederaine's impact might not be the same as a year ago when, deployed as a pass-rush specialist, he led the Bulldogs with 16.5 tackles for loss and 10.0 sacks, and that hurts.
"Sometimes I view first and second down as the vegetables on the plate and then we get to third down and that's the steak," he said. "Everyone loves their steak, you know?"
But he has adjusted, settled in more while the third-down pass rushing duties are often handled by Lewis, Brandon Hughes and freshmen Tobenna Okeke or Justin Green.
"I think he started feeling better the past two weeks, but his range of motion basically from week 2 or 3 on to two or three weeks ago was really poor and for any outside linebacker, that's hard," defensive coordinator Nick Toth said. "His effort has been really good, but it's a battle. He's fighting a battle and at any point, he can have that burst of pain that can pull him out for a number of plays.
"It has been hard on him, but he's persevered through. He's probably played his two better games the last two weeks and I think he just made up his mind that 'Hey, I'm not going to worry about it.' I'm really proud of the kid. He's made his mind up. He's going to fight through as best he can."
Ederaine admits it was a tough transition.
"There came a point in the season where the coaches told me, you know, it's not that I can't do it, it's just that I'm physically unable to rush the passer," Ederaine said. "It's kind of frustrating when you get called to the sideline and someone comes in to do something that you pride yourself on, but you realize that other person is helping the team more than you can, not because you're not good enough, but because stuff happens and I'm physically unable to really do it. Brandon, Justin and Tobenna have really picked up the slack and I'm proud of those guys. They're rushing their butts off.
"You put it all aside and go. Getting this third ring means more to me than anything else because these seniors, they're the guys I went on my recruiting trip with. We're the last of the (Pat Hill recruiting classes). I just really want to go all out for these guys. I want them to be remembered forever. If I have to push through some shoulder pain, so be it."