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Springs' Unexpected Dynasty

Ledgers ready to cap incredible run


12:00 AM, Nov. 13, 2012 EST

The Saint Mary's Springs football team celebrates its 2011 state championship game win at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison. It's a scene the Ledgers hope to repeat on Thursday. / Dan Young/Gannett Wisconsin Media

The St. Mary's Springs football team is one win away from completing one of the most impressive four-year runs the ballyhooed program has ever had.

That success can largely be attributed to the current senior class. It is a group that will go down as one of the best the school has seen, but not one that came in with much expectation.

"I was really worried about this group because they had almost no linemen," Springs coach Bob Hyland said. "When they were freshmen, the largest kid we had weighed about 175 pounds, and when they played their first game and called back the score, 35-0, I thought we had lost.

"But we won, and they went undefeated (as freshmen). Nobody could catch them, that was the thing, and it's stayed that way."

Even the players didn't know what they were going to accomplish when the majority of them first suited up for the F.A.C.E.S. junior team in fifth grade.

"You don't know who's going to be good until everyone's developed," senior linebacker Matt Austin said. "We knew we had talent. We always knew we were pretty good. We didn't know we would be winning state championships like this."

In 2010, Springs finished 12-2 and was three points from winning the state championship despite starting five sophomores and a freshman in the title game.

With that group leading the team, the Ledgers have won 26 straight games and are one win against Eau Claire Regis away from back to back state championships. But it's this week's game that the 15 seniors on the roster really want to win.

"Our coaches always tell us last year's state championship wasn't ours," senior defensive back and receiver Eric Feldner said. "So we want to leave our legacy as state champions and get our gold ball."

The seeds for a dominant two years were planted in a loss, though. After losing 6-3 to Edgar in the 2010 championship, Hyland said it was just a surprise that his team was there. But he also saw the drive it gave his young players.

"They learned from that. And what they did, not only did they learn, but they learned how to work and they took that back and really got the other kids involved" Hyland said, "and consequently it made our whole program a little better."

The coaches noticed how much quicker the players picked things up as juniors and seniors, to the point of being bored. But more than just knowing the playbook, Feldner said it has been amazing how the game has slowed down.

"Sophomore year we were inexperienced. Wow, everything seemed so fast, everyone seemed so big," he said of playing varsity as a sophomore. "The game seemed to slow down a little bit. Everything seemed to go better."

This is the third time Springs has been to four straight championship games, but it would be the first time that the Ledgers have won at least three gold balls. From 1975-78 Springs lost all four WISAA title games, and from 1989-1992, it split the four games.

To even be mentioned with that impressive company is quite an achievement for a group that once had so many question marks.

"We're pretty proud we've been [to Madison] all four years," senior nose guard Mitch Herron said. "We haven't lost as a unit in our time at Springs. All the traditions that go with being a St. Mary's Springs Ledger goes with us. It's kind of humbling that there's been so many great players to walk through those doors."

 

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