Versailles owns six football state titles. Covington’s played for one. Bradford’s made the playoffs once.
Easy choice? You bet.
“People always talk about Versailles and Covington, but to me this is the mecca,” Bradford football coach Curtis Enis said. “These kids really have to grind. We’re not a Division IV or a Division V school. We don’t pull from a deep pool of boys. But those 25-32 kids we get — there’s some hammers in there.”
This season Bradford’s nailed it.
A program whose history pales in comparison to its small school Darke and Miami County neighbors (Bradford’s split by the county line), the Railroaders are writing history.
Undefeated heading into Friday’s Cross County Conference clash with visiting Covington (3-0), Bradford is 3-0 for the first time since 1983 and in search of its first winning season since 1997.
“Six-4 … I believe coach?” Bradford athletic director Dusty Yingst questioned Enis. “Of course, I was in elementary school then.”
It’s been that long.
Riding a famed head coach and senior class, Bradford is on the cusp of ending its drought.
Enis — a former Mr. Football at nearby CCC school Mississinawa Valley — is in his third year as head coach. A first-round draft pick of the Chicago Bears after a notable career at Penn State, Enis has delivered a stern and resounding message that’s been widely accepted. In the eight years prior to his arrival, Bradford went 17-53. Since he’s been there the Railroaders are 13-10.
“Five-5 and just on the outside of the playoffs the last two years,” Yingst said. “We were so close but this year there’s a whole new feeling. It’s one of those (senior) classes everyone puts expectations and hype on.”
Yingst knows of what he speaks. Part of a Covington class (2004) that went 40-0 in the regular season, Yingst’s teams were just 1-4 in the playoffs.
“A whole different beast,” he said.
The same could be said of Bradford’s senior class, undefeated in peewee and junior high. The Bradford community has waited four long years for this football season.
‘The core of them has stuck together and believed in the process,” said Enis, who served as a volunteer assistant four years ago. “These kids love the game. It’s fun to coach kids that love the game.”
Bradford has 10 seniors. The most visible — if there is such a thing under Enis — is James Canan.
A senior running back, Canan has rushed for 983 yards and 15 touchdowns on 84 carries in three games. In last Friday’s 61-41 win at National Trail, Canan ran for 455 yards and seven TDs on 33 carries. That total doesn’t include a 70-yard TD that was called back due to holding. Canan’s 455 yards rank No. 10 on the state’s all-time list, while his seven TDs fall one short of tieing the state record.
Outside of football Canan is an accomplished MMA fighter. Before this season he opted for an old-school facemask (single-cross) to honor old-school back Craig “Ironhead” Heyward.
“I’ll talk about James as a leader,” said Enis, who won’t allow his kids to talk to the media. “He’s earned the respect of his teammates.”
Earning respect as a program is what Bradford hopes to do with a win over Covington. It won’t be easy.
”We respect Covington because they’ve been doing it,” Enis said. “They are the pillar of our conference. They’ve showed year-in and year-out that to compete for a conference championship you have to go through them. It’s a challenge. And that’s what I said to our kids — what better opportunity?”
The Buccs have been to the playoffs 12 of the last 13 years and own 12 CCC titles.
Five miles separate the schools.
Yingst is preparing for a playoff-type environment. OHSAA commissioner Dan Ross will be there.
“We’ve recruited more help for the ticket booths and we’re just trying to figure out where to park everyone,” Yingst said. “We’re using this as a trial run for a home playoff game. It’s better to be prepared than to not be.”
Bradford’s lone postseason appearance was in 1982. The Railroaders lost 7-6 to Fostoria St. Wendelin in the D-V state semifinals.
“(The playoffs) are out of our control,” Enis said. “There’s teams that go 10-0 and don’t make the playoffs. I was on a 9-1 team that didn’t go. We can’t worry about that.
“What I’m ecstatic about is the opportunity to coach kids like the ones I have because they’re fighting, kicking and scratching and that’s the way life is. Nobody is handing Bradford boys anything – they’re going to work for it. It’s a slow process but we’re committed to it. It’s coming along.”
How far? We find out Friday.
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