WEBBERVILLE – At this time last year, Joel Emmons’ football team was in the midst of its best season since 2008.
The Spartans of Webberville, who play in the Central Michigan 8-man Conference, were 3-1 heading into a Week 5 matchup with Waldron. The outcome was a 20-point defeat and the beginning of a four-game losing streak, which led to a 4-6 season.
“Week 5 through 8 is brutal for us,” Emmons said. “We just call it ‘The Gauntlet’ when we get to Week 5.”
This season, the Spartans enter the critical stage undefeated — already equaling the highest win total in a season since 2008. The same stretch. The same competition. And, according to junior Zack McGowan, a more adept Webberville team.
After Friday’s game with undefeated Waldron, the Spartans’ next three opponents — No. 4-ranked Battle Creek St. Philip and conference foes Portland St. Patrick and Morrice — currently have a combined record of 10-2.
“We’ve gone through the tough part of the schedule for a couple of years,” McGowan said. “A lot of people have returned, so we know what to expect.”
Expectations have started to resurface for Webberville football, which has struggled for playoff contention the past six years. In 2012, a year before Emmons took over, the school canceled the program — which, at that time, was was playing standard 11-man football — in the middle of the season.
In hopes of being competitive, the small, rural school made a decision in 2013 to transition to 8-man.
“There were kids in the school that weren’t out here that needed to be out here,” said Emmons, whose team is receiving votes just outside the 8-man top-five in this week’s Associated Press state poll. “We still have kids that should be out here. The commitment isn’t easy.”
Emmons referenced former all-state quarterback Travis Elowsky, who graduated last year, as one of the players who joined the team midway through high school.
“It was quite a struggle in the beginning because you’re starting with a program that was down, starting with 8-man football, a new offense, all new coaching staff…It’s starting to come together a little bit, but we have a lot of stuff we need to improve on.”
The strong start has fueled the players. And for a program that’s in process of finding its footing, the bar has remained high.
“(The start) has given us a lot confidence and motivation to keep it going and not get a loss in that column,” first-year player Hunter Fairfield said. “We want to get wins. We want to go as far as we can go.”
Contact James L. Edwards III at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @JLEdwardsIII.