The secret to the recent success for the Athens football program isn’t a secret at all. Second-year head coach Ryan Bargender said it is quite clear what it takes to create sustained success.
“You have to get in the weight room and the kids have to believe in what they are doing,” Bargender said.
That’s something Bargender learned from when he donned the helmet and shoulder pads at Edgar, just 10 minutes southeast of Athens, as he played for legendary coach Jerry Sinz.
Sinz has won 362 career games and has led Edgar to the most championship game appearances (10) and has tied for the second-most state titles (6) in his 39 years.
Tonight, if Athens defeats Hurley and Edgar takes care of Webster the two teams will meet in what would be a highly anticipated WIAA Divsion 6 state quarterfinal matchup.
“One of coach Sinz’s greatest strengths is his ability to motivate,” Bargender said. “I definitely tried to emulate that as a player and as a coach I want to find out what makes these kids tick. I am driven to get these kids to the top.
“(Sinz) is also an outstanding organizer. All of his practices are structured and he takes pride in that and we try to do that over here also. I also learned to surround myself with outstanding coaching staffs. But, I try to take things and apply them to all schools that are successful.”
A 1997 Edgar graduate, it was state title game or bust during his playing days for the Wildcats under Sinz.
Bargender and Sinz live close enough so that they can see each other’s homes through their back yards, which would mean taking a short trip to exchange film if they both win tonight.
“I am always happy to see former players have success,” said Sinz, who recalled beating Athens in a 2010 playoff game.
At Athens, Bargender has tried to instill the same winning culture he enjoyed as a player.
“You have to get bigger, stronger and faster,” he said. “It can’t be a once-in-a-while thing, either. The kids see the coaching staff putting in the consistent work and they put in the consistent work also. It creates a winning culture.
“Being physical is proven to win games at this time of the year. Running the ball, being physical. It’s all tied to the weight room.”
Despite the lack of past postseason success — Athens was 1-6 in playoff games before Bargender’s current tenure — he isn’t surprised at netting playoff wins in back-to-back years.
“Personally, I didn’t think it would take very long,” Bargender said of finding postseason success. “This is a motivated group of kids and they’re not satisfied with making it to Level 2. Maybe that would’ve been the case a couple of years ago, but not anymore. These kids had a long list of goals and they want to be playing in November and get to Level 3 for the first time in school history.”
The atmosphere for an Athens-Edgar Level 3 matchup would be electric, and not just because of the close nature of the towns. For Athens in particular, it would signify a program on the rise.
But for that potential blockbuster matchup to happen, both schools have one more game to win and for Athens, it means making history by defeating Hurley.
“It would be a big deal for our program, the fact that Edgar has the success, winning state titles and we are striving to be in those big games,” Bargender said. “This is a hump game for our program. We have slipped up in the past in Level 1 or 2 games. So this (Hurley) game is a big one for us.”