North Central Head Football Coach Brad Spencer made his Red Zone debut following the Cardinals’ 50-12 win on the road against the Wabash College Little Giants to open the 2022 season.
Learning to Be a Head Coach
Spencer was named the 26th head coach in North Central football history shortly after the end of the Cardinals 2021 season, in which they lost in the Stagg Bowl to Mary Hardin-Baylor, falling just short of defending their 2019 national championship. In the months since, he’s had time to adjust to his promotion from offensive coordinator in preparation to lead the team into the new season.
“Everyday you’re learning something new,” Spencer said. “I think as a whole it’s having the global view of things. There’s a lot more managing staff than as an offensive coordinator. So far it’s been great. We have a lot of experience on our staff and a lot of veteran players, so I fell like for me it’s been a smooth transition having seen how Cardinal football runs for the last 18 years.”
Week 1 Goals and Halftime Adjustments
Ranked #2 in the country by D3football.com to begin the season, the Cardinals will be favored to win all 10 of their regular season contests this fall. But Spencer knew that the team could not overlook the finer details in their preparation.
“Any time you’re in Game 1 you worry about turnovers, you worry about penalties,” Spencer said of his points of emphasis for the team in their first game. “We did a great job of not turning the football over… the one place we can get better going into Week 2 will be the penalties. We had 11 penalties…seven of those 11 were in the second quarter, we lost that quarter 12-7 and you saw the momentum shift a little bit.”
But whatever Spencer and his fellow coaches said in the locker room at halftime clearly had the desired effect, as the Cardinals outscored the Little Giants 28-0 in the second half.
The Benefits of a Veteran Roster
The Cardinals return eight starters on offense and six on defense, along with much of their existing roster depth, for the 2022 season. As a new head coach, the institutional knowledge Spencer inherits is a valuable asset for any team, particularly one with such lofty ambitions.
“It’s incredibly helpful when you’re putting a plan together,” said Spencer. “They can remember past game-weeks, past years… you just have a bit of a stronger base knowledge of your offense and defense and it allows you as a coach to just keep building on what you have. And then the other piece of it is experience. You’re on the road against a team we played in the playoffs just a few years ago that has, in our opinion, a top-five quarterback in the country. To have guys that have gone through the traveling… that helps a lot too and that’s why I think, at our level, the teams you see making deep pushes into the playoffs are teams that are typically a little bit older.”
Staying Focused as a Heavy Favorite
Next up for North Central are the Carthage College Firebirds on the road in Kenosha. The Cardinals won there by a similar score line to their week-one win over Wabash, and are favored to win even bigger after Carthage dropped their season opener 52-0 against Albion College. The Cardinals are no stranger to being expected to win by a large margin, and for Spencer there isn’t much of a need to tell his team not to take any contest lightly.
“Each week our message in all three phases is to focus on yourself,” Spencer said. “It really doesn’t matter who’s lining up across from you, that’s an uncontrollable and we want to focus on what we can control. As long as you focus on that the results will take care of themselves.”
Following a loss by defending-champions Mary Hardin-Baylor, the Cardinals are once again ranked #1 in the country. While the Cardinals appreciate the recognition, they know it doesn’t change their goals for each week and for the season.
“We don’t control how we’re rated, we can only control how we play,” said Spencer. “Added pressure? No. We know that there’s a target on our back. That was true on Saturday and that’s true today… I think our guys are used to it, it’s a veteran group, and it’s not anything that’s new.”