Reaching last year’s Class 2A state semifinals has rejuvenated Springfield football

Funny how one season can change not only the way a team sees itself but also the way an entire community — perhaps a region — perceives a program.

Such is the case with the Springfield football team, which reached the Class 2A semifinals last year before being dispatched by perennial state champion John Curtis.

It’s not that Springfield football squads had been doormats in district play. Far from it. The team has performed admirably in recent years, but never before had it reached the heights it did in 2012. Its previous high was when the school reached a 7-on-7 football championship game in the 1960s.

The playoff appearance, which left the Bulldogs a game shy of playing for a state title, has created a new perspective for Springfield. The Bulldogs are now playing with a giant bull’s-eye on their backs.

Each player and coach is aware that, to their District 7-2A opponents, the road to a district championship runs through the heart of this tiny town just inside the eastern boundary of Livingston Parish.

“We have a very tight-knit community,” said Springfield coach Ryan Serpas, who guided his team to an 11-2 record last season. “Things transformed here each week as we got deeper in the playoffs. The community was watching. They got behind us more and more. It was special.”

Not much has changed heading into the 2013 season, Serpas said, even though the Bulldogs graduated several of their leaders.

“Coming in this year, more people than before are asking ‘How do we look, Coach?’ The community is still rallying,” he said. “It’s motivated us as a team to put forth our best effort — not just for ourselves, but for our area and this group of people.”

Serpas’ charges know they’ll have to play their best from the outset.

“It’s not so much a chip on our shoulders, but we definitely feel like we have a target on our back,” said senior utility player Zachary Clark, who started as a junior last year even though it was his first year with the team.

“Our rivals, St. Thomas Aquinas, we beat them out for the championship last year. And Northlake (Christian), we beat them twice last year — once on their Senior Night and again in the playoffs. All we can do is play our game. We have some athletes and some great coaches.”

Campbell Palmer, a senior lineman and returning starter, said he knows Springfield’s opponents will be prepared, so the Bulldogs have to be equally ready for whatever comes their way.

“It gives you the mentality to work harder,” he said. “Sure, we went to the playoffs, but we didn’t go all the way. We lost to Curtis. So this year, we want to go all the way to the Dome. We want to succeed even more.”

Travis Tillman said last year’s playoff loss — a 55-0 shutout — was an especially painful way to end the campaign. Even though Curtis is now playing in Class 3A and the Bulldogs won’t have to face them in the postseason, Tillman said it’s going to take some time (and some victories over other opponents) to ease the disappointment he felt last year.

“It was horrible,” the senior linebacker said. “We were so close (to the title). It seemed like the intangible finally was tangible. I don’t want that to happen again. You just have to come in and grind harder to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

That’s the kind of responsibility Serpas seeks from his seniors. He said this team may be more talented than last year’s squad but needs to develop leaders to make as deep a run in the 2013 postseason.

“Nobody gives a care about what we did last year,” he said. “We have the bull’s-eye. Everyone wants to beat us. We do have a lot of talent, and I do expect us to be pretty good.

“Even losing some of the players we did, we challenged the seniors. ... I expect some big things from them.”