MERIDEN — As much as it is possible in a drill that opens with 10 100-yard sprints, the Maloney football Spartans had a spring in their step Sunday morning for their weekly “Green Bay” running regimen.
For one thing, they were coming off a monumental 26-20 win over Windsor, the team that had opened and closed their 2017 season with defeats.
For another, Sunday’s Green Bay wasn’t just any Green Bay. It was the “Green Bay for Coach Smaz.” The Spartans were joined by alumni for the annual event that memorializes the late Rob Szymaszek with the running of the drill he made a Maloney hallmark in his 26 years as head coach.
So back and forth they went, Spartans past and present, up and down the practice field that now bears Szymaszek’s name, following up the 10 100-yarders with eight 80s, six 60s, four 40s and a pair of 20s.
Lessons overlapped for the 2018 Spartans. They were reminded that no matter how big the win on Friday night, the work week begins anew on Sunday.
And from alumni who spoke about their days as Spartans under Szymaszek, they were reminded that the demands of drills like the Green Bay are what set the foundation of victory — on the field and beyond.
“Guys like them make me want to work harder, you know?” said senior wide receiver Victor Marquez. “They come out here, they see guys beat me in the sprints and it makes me want to work harder and compete more. I’m glad to see them out here.”
Anyone who was at Falcon Field on Friday night saw Maloney defeat a team it had never defeated before. In seven previous tries against, Windsor, the Spartans were 0-7 and had been outscored 283-33. A year ago, Windsor opened Maloney’s season with a 28-0 shutout and closed it with a 36-0 shutout in the Class L quarterfinals.
Those defeats fueled the Spartans through the offseason. Knowing they’d be opening the 2018 against Windsor — this time in Meriden — shaped much of their preparation.
“I thought we had a good offseason as far as building to the game,” said head coach Kevin Frederick. “The coaches did a good job installing the game plan; our guys did a good job executing it. They bought into what we were teaching them in early August and we executed it well.”
Frederick said Friday’s win told him something about his team’s toughness and athleticism. It also told him something about his team’s desire.
“These guys are hungry. Since I’ve been here, pre-game, I’ve never seen the excitement and intensity I did leading up to that game,” said the fifth-year coach. “The emotion, the focus before the game, in the pre-game dinner, that carried into the locker room. I just looked at guys in their faces … I just knew it was going to be a special night because they wanted it bad.”
Talking on Sunday, Marquez, senior quarterback Elliot Good and senior lineman D.J. Posey said the Spartans went into Friday believing they would beat Windsor.
“Two different teams,” said Good. “We were working way harder than we did last year and I think we just came out with a better mindset and it showed.”
Good, a first-year starter, threw a slant pass to Marquez on his first attempt. Marquez, a returning All-Record-Journal receiver, turned it into a 72-yard touchdown. Putting immediate points on the board deeped the pre-game confidence.
With the defense forcing four turnovers, Maloney held a 6-0 lead through halftime, then extended it to 14-0 to open the third quarter. Good hit Kamron Moreno on fourth down for 29 yards and sophomore running back Freddie Hidalgo (22 carries, 65 yards) took it the remaining eight yards.
The teams exchanged aerial roundhouses. Windsor struck from 55 yards. Good (12-20, 200) tossed a 32-yarder to senior Jaylon Nixon.
That gave the Maloney a 20-6 lead heading into the fourth quarter. That’s where the Spartans were truly put to the test. Windsor scored twice in four minutes to pull even 20-20 with 7:49 to play.
It was at this juncture that Frederick learned something else about his boys. They’re not inclined to roll over.
“I’ll be honest, I was worried about that a little bit,” Frederick said. “When it was 20-20, I looked over at the sideline and I thought I was going to see some heads that were hanging, but it was the opposite.
“I think that excites me the most because that’s when you have kids who are believing all the time and want to fight to the end and find a way to win. That’s when you start having some really good teams.”
Against Windsor, the Spartans had “Good” answers. Taking over at the Windsor 41, the senior QB kept Maloney rolling on the game-winning drive with a key completion to Maurice Brackett.
“It was fourth-and-7 and we knew what we had to do and we took care of it,” Good said. “Once we got that first down, we knew we were scoring.”
That the Spartans did. Hidalgo went over from the 1 with 1:49 to play.
Not that the game was over. Windsor still had time to drive and did — all the way to the Maloney 20. Now it was the defense’s turn to deliver one last time.
“Yeah, we got a little nervous,” Posey allowed. “But we knew what we had to do. We had to execute. We had to put our defensive moves in. We just stopped them and did a good job.”
The Spartans celebrated their win in the Falcon Field locker room and then back at Maloney. By Saturday morning, Frederick and his assistants were back in the office, watching the game tape, jotting down the corrections that need to be made.
As the game unfolded on replay, Frederick was struck by something else about his team.
“What you saw on the film the next day was how hard they played. It was a tremendous effort. The amount of defensive players running to the football, the amount of offensive players executing their plays and blocking hard to the whistle: The effort was just tremendous.
“For us now,” Frederick added, “we need that effort every day.”
And that is the moral to the Week 1 story. The lights were bright for the Spartans on Friday night. On Sunday, it was chilly and gray and time to run the Green Bay.
Spartans in their 30s and 40s reappeared on Rob Szymaszek Field. Cleats dug in and hearts raced anew.
“It means a lot. It shows us how dedicated they were when they were in our shoes and that they’d do anything to come back,” Good said. “I don’t think we realize it now how much it means, but every year they come back, so it’s got to mean something.”