XENIA – The police escort met the buses at Route 235. Then the caravan turned south on U.S. 68 for Doug Adams Stadium.
The victory party was almost home.
Football fans were waiting – hundreds of them estimated head coach Maurice Harden. The mayor was there. The Miami Valley League trophy for winning the division championship was there. The Friday late-night celebration was in honor of the Xenia Buccaneers who were returning from a 34-0 victory at Sidney.
The people came to celebrate the greatest regular season in program history. The Buccs are 10-0 for the first time. All kinds of program records have been set. They are a record No. 2 seed in Division II, Region 8 and host No. 15 Little Miami (3-7) at 7 p.m. Friday. Win that one and the Buccs are back home the next week against the winner of No. 7 Troy (7-3) and No. 10 Cincinnati Anderson (5-5).
In Harden’s two seasons, the Buccs are 9-1 at home. And the stands, like they were the night the Bucs beat Tippecanoe, will be full on Friday when the playoffs open on home fields across Ohio.
“We’ve made it to where it’s kind of that small-town feel of the whole town shuts down to go watch the show on Friday,” Harden said. “We’ve made it very difficult for our opponents to come in here and believe that they’re going to win a football game. It’s a very, very rambunctious atmosphere.
“Our community is behind our program because they see our vision and they see what we’re trying to do.”
Xenia’s rise began in 2019 under Trace Smitherman and the triple-option offense with a 9-1 season and first playoff berth. Every team made the playoffs in the COVID-shortened 2020 season when the Buccs slipped to 1-5. But they beat Tecumseh for the program’s first playoff victory and finished 2-8.
Harden came in 2020 after serving as offensive coordinator at his alma mater Chaminade Julienne. He brought the spread. The Bucs went 6-4, and because the playoffs expanded from eight to 16 teams per region, they made it as a No. 14 seed and lost to Anderson. But this season – the kind people are accustomed to in small towns like Maria Stein and Ironton and in big-city leagues like Cincinnati’s Greater Catholic League – represents what could be for the foreseeable future. Nobody’s predicting 10-0 every season, but sustained winning?
“We still have some areas in which we need to grow and get better,” Harden said. “But I definitely think that this year was a really, really huge year of laying the foundation to build this thing into a championship program.”
Every Xenia player owns a team T-shirt with the phrase “Brick-by-Brick.”
“Brick by brick means to me, laying every brick on the foundation, everybody doing their job,” said senior wide receiver and safety Tremmell Wright. “We’re trying to lay 16 bricks every game.”
Those 16 bricks are represented by the game-by-game goals listed for offense, defense and special teams on a white board inside the stadium next to the coaches’ office. Each brick could also represent a win. The Bucs have laid 10 of those. A state championship would get them to 16. But it’s a long way to Canton. The first goal, as many coaches preach and players repeat, is to be 1-0 every week. That goal, they also like to say, is best accomplished by getting better every day.
At the end of Tuesday’s practice, with the entire team and coaching staff huddled in the middle of Doug Adams Stadium, the hype of Friday night’s party had faded. Coaches talked about what is required the next day. Harden closed with a quote of the day: “You’ve got to get up every morning with determination if you’re going to go to bed with satisfaction.”
Harden said his players understand the importance to be driven by the get-better-everyday process and not the ups and downs of play-to-play and game-to-game results. For the players, their first football thoughts when they woke up Tuesday centered on that day’s practice.
Tremmell Wright: “The first thing I thought about was practice. Today was my first practice back since I got hurt in Week 9 against West Carrollton.”
Sophomore linebacker Ronnie Butler: “Just getting ready for practice. I was really excited because we get a chance to play a playoff game.”
Senior defensive lineman Jamell Smith: “Just getting back out here and knowing that today’s a work day, knowing that we got to get get back at it.”
Senior running back Trei’Shaun Sanders: “About getting better and better for the win on Friday.”
Sophomore quarterback Gavin McManus: “I was just pumped to come out and practice this week because we’re all pretty excited. We had a great season but the beginning of this week we decided that we’re zero and zero.”