It hasn’t been easy for football coach Brent Widdows at Sterling Heights.
In the past five seasons, the Stallions have gone 0-9 once and 1-8 three times, including in 2013 and 2014.
But the seventh-year coach has continued to get support and words of encouragement from athletic director Robert Maus, and second-year principal Craig Miller has been a staunch backer.
“Mr. Maus told me we were going to do it the right way,” said Widdows on Monday.
So perhaps it’s no surprise that when Sterling Heights travels to Marysville tonight, it has a chance to automatically qualify for the playoffs.
With the motto of “Faith, Family and Heart,” the Stallions have won five of their first six games and allowed just 102 points.
“Yes, people are starting to jump on the bandwagon now,” said senior captain Christian Yatooma, who leads the team with 76 tackles. “There is a buzz around school about the football team.”
Widdows has put together a solid coaching staff, one of whom is defensive coordinator Tony Wright.
“He came over from (Warren) Mott and our defense has been fantastic,” said Widdows.
The coaches refuse to let the players rest on their laurels.
“It’s Marysville’s homecoming,” shouted strength and conditioning coach Frank Genco Monday in a voice that probably could have been heard in Marysville. “You know why they scheduled you for Homecoming? Because they think you’ll be an easy victory. You only schedule teams for your Homecoming that you think you can beat.”
The Stallions are 33 strong, with 18 seniors. The five victories are one fewer than the previous three years combined.
“Our whole outlook has changed,” said Widdows. “In the last four years I’ve been able to change and develop a good coaching staff. I think that has helped tremendously and freed me up to coach and not constantly manage. My first year, I was hired in March and I had to throw something together. I’m not saying I didn’t have good coaches, but I didn’t have what I have now.
“Secondly, I believe the mentally of our athletes has changed. … It’s a brotherhood in the locker room. They have faith, whether it’s spirituality or faith in each other. It’s discussed and talked about in our locker room. It’s really a nice place to be a part of.”
Sterling Heights, which hasn’t made the playoffs since 2003, sits atop the Macomb Area Conference Gold Division at 3-0 after going to Marine City and winning, 25-19, against the perennial division power.
“This is very special,” said Yatooma, a linebacker/fullback. “I’ve got a lot of brothers out here working hard. It’s a family atmosphere out here. We haven’t done this in a long, long time. We’re really changing things around here. … We’re all working for the same goal. We’re all doing it for the same purpose. We’re all doing it as the same unit.”
Quarterback Jacob Cyccone said the players spent the summer “busting our butts.”
“We put in a lot of work,” he said. “Our team; we can trust each other. We know if the offense messes up the defense will pick us up. If defense messes up they know the offense will come through.”
Both units played well at Marine City, one of the toughest places in the area to play.
“It was pretty cool,” said Cyccone. “We all know Marine City has a good program. We knew beating them kind of would prove to everybody that we’re not just some kick-around team on the block.”