After a 4-3 start to the season, the Springfield football team won the Region 5-4A title, reeled off four playoff victories and advanced to the TSSAA 4A state title game for the second time in three years.
Ask any Springfield coach or player how they did it, and you will get a similar answer: the team has come together as a cohesive unit.
That has been partially fueled by the team’s ‘Link Up’ motto, which includes a tangible chain to represent team unity.
The idea was started in the summer by Chad Diehl, Springfield’s character coach. Each coach and player has a link that they keep throughout the week. On gameday, the links are put together to make a chain.
“I liked the idea,” junior quarterback Kevontez Hudson said. “It keeps everybody together. We trust each other a lot.”
Equipment manager Ashuntez Butrum, who Springfield coach Dustin Wilson called the team’s “12th man,” wears the chain during games, allowing everyone on the sidelines to be reminded of its meaning.
“It’s about everybody doing their part, everybody sharing a link,” senior linebacker Mikie Neal said. “When (the links) are together, the chain is stronger.”
Diehl said he has been impressed by how the team has adopted the idea. The Yellow Jackets tried a similar concept with a rope last year, but Diehl said the chain has delivered the message more effectively.
“You’re always looking for ways to bring these guys together,” he said. “The outside world fills us with a lot of junk. We try to find ways to keep all that stuff out and bring guys together. They’ve really latched on to it.”
Wilson said reminding the players about “team unity and brotherhood” is an everyday thing. It all starts with how the message is delivered.
“You always want to include something about the team,” Wilson said. “It’s all about common language. If you say ‘us’ and ‘we,’ you’re on top. If you say ‘I’ and ‘me,’ it isn’t going to work.”
It’s clear that the message has gotten through to the Yellow Jackets, who have won seven straight games. Springfield (11-3) is set to play Elizabethton in the BlueCross Bowl on Saturday at 3 p.m. in Cookeville.
“We’re all one,” Diehl said. “There’s no star. I read this week that we weren’t supposed to (make the state championship). But I think differently – I think we should (have). We figured it out, we’ve come together and it’s just exploding.”
The ‘Link Up’ motto has proven to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. The more the players believe in each other, the more they win. And the more they win, the more they believe in each other.
“Not having to dig for something positive makes the message a whole lot easier (to deliver),” Wilson said. “The kids probably don’t realize it because we’re in the middle of it. But because they’re (playing) great, they’re believing in it more.”
That self-belief was especially needed in overtime wins over Hardin County (28-20 in the quarterfinals on Nov. 22) and Haywood (17-14 in the semifinals on Nov. 29). Undefeated Elizabethton (14-0) may present Springfield with its stiffest test on Saturday, but Diehl said he thinks the players are fit for the challenge.
“We’ve faced some big teams with some big stars in the last three weeks,” Diehl said. “They have overcome adversity every time. I would not count the Yellow Jackets out.”