Every Monday morning during the season, Valley Center football coach Caleb Smith has an informational packet awaiting his players for the team meeting.
Early in the season, it was mostly filled with inspirational quotes. But lately the meetings have turned more historical, as Smith will include nuggets on what records the team is breaking this season.
The nugget this week: Valley Center (9-1) can become the first 10-win team in program history if it wins this Friday in the Class 5A quarterfinals on the road at Great Bend (9-1).
“That’s a huge deal, so now we know what is on the line Friday night,” Valley Center senior defensive end Isaac Neal said. “I think it makes us all hungrier when he tells us that kind of stuff every Monday on where we are in the history books.”
Some coaches wouldn’t want to put additional pressure on the players by telling them what is at stake. But Smith thinks his players in Valley Center are different.
This is a program that hasn’t won big before, but it is also a program that is desperate to win now and that it feels it is on the cusp. Smith doesn’t think his players feel the pressure at all, rather they sense an opportunity that they know doesn’t come around often in Valley Center.
“I think the kids really do enjoy hearing those kinds of stats,” Smith said. “Two weeks ago it was they were the first team to make it to Week 10 since 1998, and then last week they were the first to make it to Week 11 since 1996. Now they’re trying to be the best in school history and that’s a big motivator.”
A handful of the current Valley Center coaching staff were players on that 1996 team, including Smith. That adds more motivation for the players, as they find themselves chasing the history set by their coach’s team.
“It’s kind of cool to get to compare ourselves to them and try to beat their records,” senior offensive lineman Ethan Bauguess said. “Obviously we’re trying to be the best team ever from Valley Center, but we’re also taking it one week at a time.”
Smith notices that Valley Center is playing with superior confidence.
Even after the team’s lone loss this season — a 49-7 beating at the hands of Goddard one month ago — Smith didn’t notice a dip. The next week the Hornets went on the road and defeated Andover 57-33.
After building the program for the last three years, this senior class is motivated to be the team that sets itself apart.
“These kids are tough and these seniors have a lot of belief,” Smith said. “Every week they feel like they’re going to win. If anything, the Goddard loss motivated them even more to get to the next level.”
“Our team has never feared a team or been worried before,” Neal added. “We always respect our opponent, but we’ve never feared anybody this season.”
To become the best team in school history, Valley Center will have to conquer a 2-hour bus ride and a team that was ranked No. 1 in 5A until the final week of the regular season. Great Bend has an explosive offense and will be a physical opponent.
In years past Valley Center would have felt overmatched.
But now they’re confident they’re going to keep having those Monday meetings.
“When Coach Smith came here, he told us that we didn’t have to settle for being mediocre,” Bauguess said. “He told us we could win and now here we are. I think he has done a great job of getting everyone to buy in and now it’s not just the football players that believe. Now everybody is behind us.”