Springfield Central coach Valdamar Brower could sense his Golden Eagles were riding high as the 2013 season approached.
After all, they finally got the best of Longmeadow in the Western Mass. Division 1 Super Bowl last year — after losing to the Lancers in the Super Bowl the previous two years — winning, 27-0. And with its starting quarterback and other players from the previous year returning, Brower felt the team expected the wins would keep coming.
But he knew the reality of the situation and tried to relay that message throughout the preseason. Brower’s team had to overcome the loss of 24 seniors, resulting in new faces being thrown into starting roles for the first time as the Golden Eagles’ Week 1 showdown with then-No. 2 Everett loomed.
Sure enough, Springfield Central watched a third-quarter lead disappear as the Crimson Tide reeled off 17 straight points in a 31-23 win Sept. 6.
“Playing Everett for our first game was a great challenge for us,” said Brower, a special education teacher at the school. “And it was a night that certainly opened up their eyes and they realized we had a lot of work to do.”
So the Golden Eagles refocused. And they took off.
Springfield Central (7-1) reeled off seven straight wins by an average of more than 32 points per game to claim the No. 1 seed in the Division 2 West playoffs. Pairings for all the West playoffs in Divisions 2, 4, 5, and 6 were finalized Sunday.
Senior quarterback Cody Williams has been in the middle of it all for three straight years, earning the starting job one game into his sophomore season, after beating out a senior quarterback who led the Golden Eagles to the Super Bowl the year before.
Williams has thrown for 1,583 yards and 19 touchdowns against two interceptions on an offense that averages 38.5 points per game.
In front of Williams is an offensive line made up entirely of seniors, with Khalil Walker and Shawn Lee at the tackles, Sedric Ramsey and Jason Menaker at the guards, and Justin Wilson at the center spot.
But what separates Springfield Central from other teams is its passion for the sport, whether on the practice field or during a game.
Earlier in the season, Williams and the senior-laden offensive line got into a heated argument at practice over raising the effort level.
“Stuff happens in practice and if you’re walking at practice and not playing to the whistle, you should be wearing a different-colored jersey,” said Brower, who is in his sixth year as head coach, ninth overall with program. “They kind of preach that stuff in practice and if it happens on the field, they call each other out for it.”
The Golden Eagles hold one another accountable for their actions and for improving week to week.
And when it all comes together on game day, that emotion comes out.
“When plays are made offensively, defensively, special teams-wise during games, the kids are very unselfish and you can see them celebrate together,” Brower said. “They play with their hearts on their sleeves.”
Springfield Central — the biggest school in the Division 2 playoff field with 1,076 boys in grades 9 through 12 — will bring that same intensity when it kicks off yet another playoff run Friday at home against a familiar foe, one that always seems to be in the way: Longmeadow.
And after topping the Lancers, 19-7, earlier in the season, one might suspect Springfield Central could look ahead to its opponent in the next round, either Westfield or East Longmeadow.
But Brower won’t let his players buy into any hype this time around as they did at the beginning of the season.
“They’re not going to overlook this team,” he said.