Thursday, August 24, 2017

MIAA Football Camp Road Trip: The Springfield Central Golden Eagles

Coach Valdamar Brower prepares for his 10th year on the Golden Eagle sideline.
By John McGuirk (@patsfan1313)

SPRINGFIELD - For Valdamar Brower, life is more than being a head football coach.

Set to enter his 10th season leading Springfield Central's football team, Brower has gone to unexpected lengths in providing love, care, wisdom and guidance to all of his players, both past and present.

Serving as a special education teacher and coach for an inner-city school, which harbors great diversity and contrasting backgrounds, Brower has become an entity of sorts. The long-time coach takes pride in successfully connecting with all of his players, putting them on the straight and narrow, and getting them focused on life, family, academics and football.

A strict disciplinarian, Brower says that raising academic standards, and the low number of off the field issues within his club has been most rewarding. Because of Brower's no nonsense style, he has forged the Golden Eagles program into one of the most dynamic state-wide.

"I love and care about all of these kids and their lives," said Brower. "We, as a coaching staff, stay in touch with all of them when they are here and after they graduate. Here, academics and character are more important than football to me. There is life beyond football because you are only able to play this game for a certain amount of time. For me, being here, this is beyond the game itself.

I do feel like I am a mentor, a father figure or an uncle to a lot of these kids. That is what it is all about. It is important to show them how to do things the right way and show them that, through hard work, they can do some really good things within the community and in their lives. There is now less and less time spent with me meeting with the principal regarding a player, and there are less academic issues to deal with. Everyone here seems to be stepping their game up, on and off the field, which is great to see."

Due, in part, to the structure, tough love and close attention to detail, Central has earned its place among the best. This upcoming season should prove to be no different. This is a team poised to make a solid run at a Division 3 Super Bowl and a trip to Gillette Stadium come December.

But only a week into preseason practice, Brower is not about to utter such talk. Neither are his players. Any mention of the postseason is strictly taboo at this point. 

After winning a Super Bowl title in 2012, the Golden Eagles have fallen short in their attempts of securing another. In 2013, they fell to St. John's (Shrewsbury) in a thrilling state semifinal. The following year, they lost to East Longmeadow in the Western Mass semifinal. In 2015, a last-minute loss against eventual D2 state champion Nashoba Regional in the state semifinals ended the Eagles' run, and another late minute defeat versus Westfield in last year's Western Mass semifinal followed.

Lessons learned? You bet.

Central could have easily consumed itself into a "woe is us" cocoon, and the players could have continued to feel sorry for themselves. But that is not how this team is built. Instead, the Golden Eagles have quelled such thoughts by putting the past where it belongs- Behind them.

"Obviously, those last two losses in the playoffs are still in my head," junior wide receiver Myles Bradley said. "But that is in the past now and you need to move on. This is a different team this year. If everyone here knows their job and does their job, then no doubt we will be successful."

Says senior linebacker Jason Williams, "It definitely serves as motivation for all of us. Yes those teams beat us, but our thinking now is we just want to go out and beat everybody this year. We all believe we can go as far as we want to go."

The Golden Eagles, which run multiple formations on both sides of the ball, did suffer some major losses following last year's graduation. Among the several key contributors that departed include quarterback Tank Walker and running back De'Andre Goldson, who combined for 45 touchdowns a year ago.

As of now, Brower has not tabbed a starting quarterback with three players all in the hunt for the starting job. Anthony Owens, a senior, looks to be the primary running back with Bradley (24 yards-per-catch last season) and senior Chauncy Cogell serving as Central's deep threats. Williams, who registered 40 tackles last season, is expected to be the leader on defense along with Zeleke Martin, a 6-3, 210 pound junior.

Well-regarded as a superb teacher of X's and O's, Brower made a name for himself first at Northampton High School before attending UMass-Amherst, where he earned All-American and All-Atlantic 10 honors as a defensive lineman. Following a couple of lean early years at Central, Brower soon turned Central into the elite program it is today, and a regular postseason participant.

With the exception of last year's playoff loss to Westfield, the Golden Eagles have become the standard in Western Mass.that other teams try to emulate. It is quite similar to the success Longmeadow, under then head coach Alex Rotsko, enjoyed when the Lancers participated in a state record 16 consecutive Super Bowls from 1994-2012.

"It's a new group of kids this year," Brower said. "It's also a new way of thinking about things. We're still trying to identify our strengths and weaknesses, because we've only been out here for a short time. During the winter, spring and summer we would meet as a coaching staff and everyday it was a brand new way of looking at things. But once you are able to see them perform on the field it is a totally different eye-opener in terms of preparing them for some of the things you would like for them to do. Right now, we just don't know. It is a day-by-day process, and we just want to continue to get better every day."

In a couple of weeks, the Golden Eagles should know a little more about themselves. Never one to back down from a challenge, Central opens its season on September 9th by hosting Bishop Sullivan Catholic High School. The Virginia Beach power is one of the most decorated high school football programs in the nation. Among the plethora of top-tier talent on their roster, the Crusaders feature the No. 1 rated all-purpose back in the nation, according to Rivals and 247 Sports, in Florida State-bound senior Khalen Laborn.

Central follows that game up with a contest at St. John's (Shrewsbury) the next week. In past years, Central has opened its season against BC High, Everett and Providence power La Salle Academy.

"We are really looking forward to both of those games to start the season," said Cogell. "We always want to challenge ourselves and play against the best competition possible. You cannot be the best without playing the best. Even though the roster changes every year, the mentality here never does."

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