SEFFNER — It was hard to spot the quarterback in the group as the players took a knee around Springstead coach Mike Garofano.
“Don’t hang your heads,” said Garofano, who rubbed his chin before he spoke. “Stay classy all the way.”
When Springstead’s record-breaking season ended in a 41-0 loss to Armwood on Friday night, quarterback Tyler Mahla’s high school football career also ended.
A few players wiped at their eyes while listening to Garofano. Mahla wasn’t one of them. He stared straight ahead.
“No reason to hang your heads,” Garofano repeated. “We appreciate all the hard work you did.”
To end on that note stung, Mahla said, but Armwood is a great team. He couldn’t be prouder of the group he helped bring to this point.
Mahla never stopped playing against the Hawks. Each first down Springstead earned came either on a rush or a pass by Mahla. The Eagles’ biggest gain of the night was a 17-yard rush by their quarterback at the beginning of the fourth quarter, and he punted for them throughout the game.
“It really hasn’t hit me yet,” Mahla said of his high school career ending. “I’m sure it will on the ride home.”
The quarterback has started since his sophomore year and followed in the footsteps of his father, J.P., who started for Springstead in 1984, and brother, James, who played from 2006-08. He surpassed both in statistics and finishes as the leader of a team that has broken both school and county records.
After a loss in Week 1, the Eagles won 11 straight games, a school first. No Hernando high school has progressed to the third round of the tournament, another first for Springstead, and all under Mahla’s leadership.
He doesn’t take the credit, though. He said he’s proud of his team and their cooperation throughout the season.
Now Mahla waits to see if he’ll receive any college offers.
“They tend to shy away from me because I’m too skinny,” he said, looking down at his 6-foot-1, 155-pound frame.
Down 31-0 at halftime Friday, the Eagles jogged slowly back to the field to start stretching. Mahla ran ahead of them, head up and confident.
Garofano said that leadership was evident all season. He was the most competitive player on the team, led by example in the locker room and was the most physically fit player on the team.
“He was the leader on the field, the leader off the field,” Garofano said.