Mud brewed by a sudden storm stains the left shoulder of the otherwise white jersey of St. Mary’s Springs Academy running back Ike Floyd.
Just below the scar of doing battle recently on a rain-soaked gridiron, Floyd displays on his bared upper left arm in inked large letters a message for his opponents; “PS: 27.”
The Biblical reference to Psalm 27 – David’s prayer that his enemies may not prevail over him – is part of the unofficial uniform of Floyd and every other member on the Ledgers football team.
“Before every game we pray together as a team and write Psalm 27 on our arms. We know we need God to come on strong and win,” said Floyd, 18, a senior who recently set the school’s single-game rushing record of 335 yards in a game against Rosendale’s Laconia High School and holds the Ledgers’ all-time career rushing record, currently at 3,539 yards.
The Ledgers finished the 2013 season 9-0 with a 49-7 victory over Winnebago Lutheran Academy on Oct. 17.
The win brought Springs’ winning streak to 36 games.
Led by legendary coach Bob Hyland, the all-time winningest high school football coach in Wisconsin with a 396-101-2 career record, the Ledgers are set to pursue Springs’ third consecutive Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association (WIAA) Division 6 state football championship when they host Pardeeville, Friday at 7 p.m.
Since coming to Springs in 1971, Hyland’s teams have won eight Wisconsin Independent School Athletic Association (WISAA) state titles and have finished as runner-up six times. In addition, the Ledgers have won four WIAA state championships and finished second three times.
“I’m not an overly religious person, but I know whatever you do is from the glory of God, so you better watch out what you’re doing,” said Hyland, 66, whose teams have earned the WIAA state title three of the last four years. “On the other side, I have faith in these kids. I expect them to be good and they expect us as coaches to get them to the championship. We put a lot of faith in each other’s hands.”
Anchored by a core of four seniors starting on the offensive line, the Ledgers have rolled over most opponents this year, with the offense averaging 371.6 rushing yards per game versus 73.6 for their opponents.
“It’s an honor to have been playing under Coach Hyland for four years. Not many people get the opportunity to play in four state championship games,” said Sam Schrauth, a 6-3, 314 pound senior offensive and defensive lineman and one of three Ledger captains, along with Floyd and senior end Dan Zacherl. “Coach Hyland has established a winning tradition at Springs and you can definitely feel that tradition during games.”
Prior to every game, Schrauth said players pass the school’s trophy case filled with conference and state football championship trophies.
“I believe that gives us motivation to put a trophy of our own in that case. We just have to play up to our ability and not make mental mistakes,” Schrauth said.
Without God’s presence, none of the team’s success would be possible, Schrauth said.
“God grants us the ability to come out and play. We thank God for those abilities,” he said. “Coaching is one thing that makes us great, but another is, as a team, we really bond, on and off the field. We know what clicks between us and what our individual personalities are. So we are confident we are going to win.”
Hyland, in his 43rd season as the Ledgers’ coach, said having a Catholic education is a plus for his players.
“Every time you enter a classroom you see a crucifix and can say a prayer,” Hyland said. “And we have our longstanding prayer before a game which basically asked God to help us play our best so we never have to hang our heads or have to shed tears. As a player, you can look in the mirror and say to yourself, ‘I don’t care what the outcome of the game was, I played the best I could.’”
While faith in God is important to the Ledgers, execution, not a thick book of fancy plays, is the key to winning, Hyland said.
“The name of the game in football to this day is blocking and tackling,” Hyland said. “We don’t run a whole lot of plays. It’s just a matter of lining up in different formations and running different plays out of those formations. When push comes to shove, we line up in base formations and run the ball down the opponent’s throat.”
Discipline is another key to the Ledgers’ success, Hyland said.
“We are pretty darn tough on the kids, but they work hard,” he said. “Most of the time our offensive line dominates the line of scrimmage. We have four senior offensive linemen and we told them we expected them to be better than last year. And they are better.”
Hyland, who recently won Wisconsin Best Football Coach recognition in a popular vote contest sponsored by USA Today, started his career at Springs going 1-15-2 after two years.
“I had just come out of college. Springs didn’t have a winning tradition and I didn’t have what I would call a coaching staff, just a couple of individuals who wanted to help out,” Hyland said.
Hyland now has 11 assistant coaches, including his son, Rob, a former Ledger quarterback who was named Wisconsin high school player of the year in 1991, the same year his father earned Wisconsin coach of the year honors.
“Our coaches have 170 years of football experience, including five coaches who have experience as players at the college level. When you have that kind of coaching background and knowledge of the game it translates to improved quality of play by the players,” Hyland said.
Zacherl said he couldn’t see playing for anyone but Hyland.
“The energy he brings to the game and the way he connects with you are great,” Zacherl said. “Coach Hyland and his staff have established a winning tradition and that puts pressure on you – a good kind of pressure. There are expectations of you when you play football at Springs.”
One of those expectations is also “playing for your faith,” Zacherl said.
“My faith gives me strength and something to play for,” Zacherl said. “It helps you along during the game. Psalm 27 is kind of about the courage needed to play and battle through adversity. It motivates you to play together as a team.”