|Bridgewater athletics photo
By Brian Lester
Bridgewater head coach Michael Clark mentioned in an interview this week that it’s been a while since he’s gotten a call from D3football.com.
The Eagles played in the 2001 Stagg Bowl and made six consecutive playoff trips from 2000 to 2005. It’s been awhile, though, since the Eagles have rolling the way they have this season, winning their first five games and stretching their overall win streak to nine dating to last October.
It’s a streak that has generated renewed energy and excitement for a program that has had its share of success over the years, both in the regular season and the playoffs.
Yet, for Clark, who has seen plenty of ups and downs in his 25 years of coaching the Eagles, the same mentality applies to the program when things are going good just as they would if they were going in the opposite direction.
“I’ve managed things at both ends of the parade in my time here,” Clark said. “When you push toward the front, everyone wants to talk big picture, and you can’t. Your focus has to be small. A couple of years ago when we were struggling, I didn’t have to convince anyone of that because we kicked into survival mode. Sometimes you have to apply the same principles that got you out of the trench as you do when you are leading the parade. That’s where we are at right now.”
A year ago this week, the story was different. Bridgewater was coming off a 42-21 loss to Hampden-Sydney. It turned the ball over five times in what was the second of three consecutive losses for the Eagles.
“I remember the conversation we had to have that morning. It was tough,” Clark said. “I told the guys we have to dig our heels in and make a stand. We have to focus and get back to playing our football.
That meant playing great defense, getting the advantage in the kicking game and not turning the ball over, setting the offense up to not have to do a lot of work to win come the fourth quarter.
One year later, the Eagles head into their homecoming game with Ferrum riding the high of a 51-7 win over Hampden-Sydney on the road.
Clark said the guys are not only excited about the success, but they are invested. The tough times they’ve endured have made them stronger.
“The group we are playing with now has equity in this operation,” Clark said.
Defensive back Chase Rosenthal is one of those guys. He’ll be the first to tell you the program has a different kind of buzz around it this season.
“We’re all really excited. To be here at 5-0 is a great feeling,” Rosenthal said. “Everyone is pretty high about it. Every week we are feeding off each other’s energy.”
Quarterback Jay Scroggins feels the same way. He’s a fifth-year senior and knew coming into the year that the Eagles were poised to carry the momentum over from the end of last season.
“It’s great to be 5-0. Everyone on the team is excited,” Scroggins said. “But we still have to keep working hard and take it week to week. Our goal is to get to week 11.”
Scroggins said it’s the focus the team has had after that 44-41 overtime loss to Randolph-Macon on Oct. 20 of last year that has played a pivotal role in the turnaround.
“We made a lot of adjustments and some changes within ourselves,” Scroggins said. “Ever since then, we’ve been on a winning streak. We really just started focusing on ourselves and take it one week at a time. That’s really helped.”
And while the Eagles are focused, the players admit their having fun with the success.
“It makes things more fun when you are winning,” Scroggins said. “The fans are excited for us. We have a lot of people supporting us that enjoy what we are doing.”
Rosenthal noted that knowing how things were prior to this win streak makes he and his teammates enjoy the excitement and hype of the success a little more.
“You appreciate it more. It gives you something to look forward to every week. You want to keep striving to be great on the field and in life,” Rosenthal said. “No one likes to lose. Winning definitely gets your mind right.”
If any further evidence is needed of the excitement surrounding the program, look no further than what is on the horizon Saturday when the Eagles host Ferrum for homecoming.
More than 50 recruits will be on campus and the tailgate area will be full.
“We have 160 tailgate slots right off the field, and for the third consecutive home game they have been sold out well in advance,” Clark said. “And from a coaching perspective, we’ll have 50-plus recruits here on Saturday. I want them to see what a Saturday is like here, what football not on ESPN looks like and what a game day looks like in our stadium.”
Scroggins said he and his teammates feed off that added energy, and yet, they can’t allow themselves to get too caught up in all the hype going forward if they are to continue moving in the right direction.
“It’s definitely something we can feed off of, but we can’t worry about the past,” Scroggins said. “Yeah, we’re undefeated, but we can’t get complacent. We have to keep our foot on the gas, work hard in practice and stay focused.”
Clark said he read a golf book once in which great competitors have to recognize winning and losing for the imposters that they are. He’ll be the first to tell you he has trouble sleeping after a loss and he loves the rush that comes with winning.
But ultimately, all of that only goes so far. In the end, Clark, who has been coaching college football for 40 years, just wants to see his team continue to move forward.
“I’ve been blessed to have years where I’ve won them all and that didn’t satisfy me totally. And I’ve had years where I didn’t win them all and that didn’t kill me,” Clark said. “I enjoy the chase and the rush when you know a game is won, but by the same token, if you put too much value into the scoreboard, they’ll cheat on you.”