During a pre-practice film session on Tuesday, York Tech football coach Charlie Troxell reminded his players not to get too cocky going into Saturday's game against Hanover.
Typically, a coach of a 4-3 team wouldn't have to warn his team about overconfidence.
The Spartans, however, have earned the right to walk around with a little extra swagger. At 4-3, Tech sits in fourth place in the York-Adams Division III standings. That may not sound like anything to write home about. Considering the history of Spartan football, however, this has already felt like a banner year, even if it might not lead to an actual championship banner at the end of the season.
"Our priority is to improve the program, first of all, and win some games," Troxell said. "Let's face it, I coached here three years ago (as an assistant) and we were 3-7. ... The last two years, Tech has won three games. We've won four this year and hopefully more, and the motivation is just to improve the program and win. When's the last time we had a winning season here?"
The answer to that question is 2009. when the Spartans went 6-4. Since then, Tech has won 10 games total over the last six seasons, with the three-win 2013 year being the high-water mark.
Simply put, Spartan football and success don't go hand-in-hand. That's what makes this year's success such a surprise.
In the past, it's been tough to get players motivated to come out for the team, let alone put forth a full effort. Back in August, during Y-A League media day, Troxell admitted that it would be near impossible for Tech to make the District 3 playoffs. When the PIAA opted to reclassify football into six classes, it reduced the number of teams that would make the playoffs in District 3 from 44 to 32. That meant teams would likely need to go no worse than 7-3 to make the eight-team field in the 6-A class.
However, the strength and school size of your opponents also factor into the District 3 ratings. The Spartans play in the Y-A League's small-school division, despite their big-school population. So, when they face 1-A, 2-A and 3-A programs on a weekly basis, any wins the team accumulates barely move the needle in their rating, but a single loss can be devastating.
Still, that hasn't impacted the drive the team has shown this season, even if the postseason is basically out of reach. There are other factors that drive the team to succeed.
"A lot of people like to say you don't have to prove yourself to anybody," senior wide receiver Jordan Ray said. "But, with Tech, I feel like there's a lot of proving to do because they have a stamp on them that I feel is unfair. So, in the beginning of the season, you come out, you have 13 weeks — 10 games, two scrimmages and a week of camp — to prove yourself to everyone else. Prove all the doubters wrong that we can be a good team."
Ray is a big reason why Tech is having one of its best seasons in program history. He leads the Y-A League in receiving yards with 513 on 15 receptions, including seven touchdowns. He's only part of the team's success, however. Junior quarterback Josiah Smallwood is responsible for getting him the ball, which he's done well. He's also spread it around to several other weapons. Smallwood ranks second in the league with 1,103 passing yards and has thrown eight touchdowns, good for third in the league.
"The first drill we did was a 7-on-7 drill against the starting defense," Ray said about his connection with Smallwood. "...Once I did my cut, caught the 5-yard out, from that point on I knew that it was going to be a big season between us because we had that connection."
Troxell, who's in his second stint as Tech's head coach, can see the drastic improvement in talent on this year's team, as opposed to when he first led the program from 2002-04. That has been the biggest factor in making this team a winner again.
In its history, Tech football only has five seasons in which it's finished with a .500 record or better. It has seven seasons where the team has won zero games. That shows that good seasons are few and far between at Tech.
The best year a Tech team has ever had came way back in 1976, when it went 7-3.
With no playoffs and no Division III title left to play for this year, but three games remaining on their schedule, that record is what the Spartans are aiming for. Tech is already having a good season. Now, however, there's the belief that this could be the best Spartans' team in history.
"Just improving from winning one or two games for so many years to four, we've made progress already," Troxell said. "That's really the motivation, and even the kids know that. They know they're not going to the playoffs, but they know that if they play hard and work hard, this program is not the doormat anymore."
— Reach Patrick Strohecker at email@example.com