SPRINGFIELD — As Springfield began to prepare for the delayed 2020 football season, the seniors got together for a little talk.
The Cougars went 3-8 last season, 3-6 in the Central League, the first losing season since 2009. Even though Springfield did qualify for the District 1 Class 5A playoffs, the sub .500 record did not sit well with members of the senior class.
“We felt we were better than the way we performed,” said senior wide receiver/safety Alex Sciarrino. “Honestly, a three-win season is not like Springfield. We felt like it was a letdown and so we met because we felt there was so much to improve on.”
“Losing isn’t fun,” added junior cornerback/receiver Frank Tropiano. “Putting everything you have into it and still coming up short, it’s not the best feeling in the world.”
Chris Britton, who is entering his seventh season as head coach, has a different view on a season that has been turned upside down due to the coronavirus pandemic. First, the season was moved to the spring and then switched back to the fall in an abbreviated six-game format that does not include participation in the district playoffs. The Central League has split into two divisions, one with the six Class 6A schools and one with the six Class 5A members. There is a five-game season against teams within the divisions and then a final game against the team that finishes in the same spot in the opposite division — No. 1 in 6A plays No. 1 in 5A and down the line.
“This year it’s not about the playoffs or the wins and losses,” said Britton, whose team opens the season Friday night at Penncrest. “That will all come again when things return to normal. The goal is to play every game on the schedule and have fun with it. Nothing’s been normal and it’s still not, so let’s enjoy it and not take it for granted and get in what they can get in.”
What Britton does see is a team that has a lot of experience returning. Britton played eight sophomores last year and a number of juniors.
“Usually, those kids get JV experience, not varsity playing time,” Britton said. “They’re all playing like they’ve been there before because they have and that helps a lot. You get a lot of the kinks out early that you normally would have to struggle with.”
Among the returnees is senior Jack Clark, who led the Cougars in rushing last year, going for 496 yards and two scores. Sciarrino is another key senior, as are quarterback/defensive back Matt Ellison, running back Jayden Baiden, wide receiver/linebacker Brett Gougler and linebacker Michael Grapin. Ellison threw for 554 yards and five touchdowns and is part of a three-man rotation with junior Nate Cain and sophomore Jake Rama under center.
“They all bring something different to the table,” Britton said.
Tropiano is one of the players who saw time as a sophomore. Two-way linemen Ethan Johnson and Brian Layton, wide receiver/cornerback Rob Longo, running back/linebacker Connor Roche and running back Matthew Grapin also gained valuable experience as sophomores.
“Sophomores getting varsity time is not usual and many times it’s not a good thing, but for this year, with the abbreviated season, having so many guys that have done stuff is good,” Britton said. “They’ve been in it before. They’ve played before. It’s definitely a plus for us given the situation.”
All of those players, especially the seniors, have come back with a purpose.
“I think we’re going to be real good this year,” Tropiano said. “We’re real scrappy. We don’t have the most hype but we just want to win after last year. We’re fed up with losing.”