SPRING HILL — Running a high school football team is like running a small business. Until you’ve done it, Springstead coach Mike Garofano said, you won’t understand.
This is Garofano’s first year as head coach of the Eagles, and he has already had an enviable season. Springstead is the only North Suncoast team still alive in the postseason.
It’s the third time in seven playoff appearances that the Eagles have progressed past the first round.
“It’s a long grind of a season,” Garofano said. “It’s why you work in the offseason.”
The Eagles’ region quarterfinal win against Citrus, 21-6, was a dramatic turnaround. The Hurricanes had hosted Springstead for the first game of the regular season, which Citrus won 42-14.
Garofano said his team was intimidated in that first matchup, but it gave them a rare opportunity. The players’ study of game tape spurred them to improvement and kicked off a 10-game win streak.
The Eagles were lucky, Garofano said, that their first playoff opponent was a team they’d studied so closely. Their decisive win proved their spot in postseason play wasn’t a fluke.
Tonight’s game with Gainesville is a difficult matchup to predict. The teams’ only common foes are Citrus and Sunlake, with both notching wins against those teams.
The key for the Eagles, Garofano said, will be to hold onto the ball and not give up turnovers, as the Eagles did against Citrus in Week 1. He hopes his defense will repeat the stellar performance that kept Citrus out of the end zone on offense (James Pouncey scored on an 81-yard kickoff return).
It was a proud moment for Springstead, especially with a first-year coach. But Garofano isn’t new to the game or this team. He was the Eagles’ defensive coordinator for 10 years before his promotion, and he has been coaching since he was in college.
Garofano, a 1993 Springstead graduate, was an outside linebacker at Culver-Stockton College in Missouri. He knew he wanted to go into coaching after he was done playing so he studied physical education and health in order to teach at the high school level.
Though used to the game, the head coaching position is completely different, he said. In addition to training players and perfecting strategy, Garofano knows he’s a role model and disciplinarian, and he has to raise funds for the group.
“Nothing quite prepares you for this,” he said.
Garofano knows football is only part of what he does as coach, and he seeks outside help for the rest of his duties. Every Thursday, the team goes to Christian Church in the Wildwood for a group meal and a message from the church.
The meal is the best Garofano will get all week, he said, but it’s more than food. The message is part of the coaches’ goal to build character through athletics and fellowship.
“We’re trying to turn these boys into men,” he said with a chuckle, “and release them into the wild.”
Gainesville (9-2) at Springstead (10-1)
Last week: Gainesville beat Sunlake 17-14; Springstead beat Citrus 21-6
Story line: These teams last met in 2010 in the same round, but personnel on the rosters and sidelines have changed. The Eagles, under the direction of first-year coach Mike Garofano, have reeled off 10 straight wins since a season-opening loss to Citrus. The Hurricanes, under first-year coach Mark Latsko, opened and closed the regular season with losses, but gave up just 11 points on average in the nine wins.
Mary Kenney: Springstead 21-14. I didn’t expect the Eagles’ tight defense to shut down Citrus last week, and I won’t overlook them a second time. Gainesville won’t be able to catch up to the Eagles’ powerful running game.
Derek J. LaRiviere: Springstead 24-20. The Hurricanes haven’t seen an offensive attack with the precision of the Eagles’ read-option behind Mahla. Gainesville, which admits to leaning more on the defense this season after the graduation of several key cogs on a balanced offense, won’t have the same success against a stout Springstead front.