Linden — It was a season that could’ve been a tough one for the Linden varsity football season.

 It began with the loss of a legendary coach in Denny Hopkins almost a year ago. From there, first-year head coach Chad Williams took over. He had most of his coaching staff figured out once hired, initially but many left for other jobs forcing Williams to find other coaches — many assistants  coming to the program as first-year mentors.

 In that mix of turmoil was a senior class that had to figure out its history within the program. Entering the 2022 season, the Eagles had qualified for the playoffs 19 times in the 21st century.  However, since 2017 the Eagles’ fortunes were changing slightly. Linden had experienced losing records in three of four seasons, including a 3-6 mark last year.

 From an outsider at the start of 2022 the season looked reasonably bleak, with the year being probably no more than a rebuilding season. Apparently, that wasn’t the case though. With a roster that included 23 seniors, those seniors made sure their final season with the Linden football program was a memorable one. Of course, that memorable season ended Friday night in a regional championship game in a 29-16 loss to traditional state power DeWitt at Linden High School.

 “This season meant a lot to me,”senior Reese Giacomantonio said. “It’s been really fun being around the new coaches. I’m glad we got to set the tone — a district title. Obviously, it’s not what we wanted. We wanted more, but I’m sure the team next year will be ready to get vengeance next year.”

 “The district title was one of the greatest accomplishments this year,” fellow senior Ethan Gomez said. “Losing to Fenton earlier this season and then coming out and winning with a high score on them was great. We won a district title for the first time in five years and beat Fenton for the first time in 10. We overcame a lot of injuries. I love this team. There’s nothing better in the world than to play football with friends.”

  It was a fantastic start going 5-1 in the Eagles’ first six games. But then came three straight loses, including one to Fenton, before the Eagles (7-5) put it back together for a strong playoff run. The district tournament began with a 35-14 victory against Halsett at home. Linden followed that victory with one against the Fenton Tigers. Linden avenged an earlier season 28-21 loss to Fenton and broke a 10-game losing streak against the Tigers, earning a convincing 35-7 district championship victory at Fenton.

 Against DeWitt, the Eagles were within a 16-9 deficit against a squad that played in the D3 state title game in 2022, but had to settle for a 29-16 loss. Williams credited his senior class.

 “It was a perfect storm of character between coaches and players,” Williams said. “There was never any point through the losses that there was any fold. It was we were going to figure it out and we were going to solve it. It started back in January. The amount of buy in that we had, the amount of work we put in and how hard it was for these kids to change their habits (was considerable). They had to buy into the idea that we can rebuild a community. ... That’s why they never quit because it was so much bigger than them. The same thing with us as coaches. We bought into the idea that it wasn’t about me, or about any of the coaches, or Bryce Eliuk. It was about Linden. And when we bought into that there was never any point in any players’ or coaches’ minds that they should ever give up.”

 That sense of community can be felt among the seniors.

 “Personally, I had three younger kids that came up to me after one of the games we lost. I think it was Goodrich,” Gomez said. “He said, he was my biggest fan and gave me the biggest hug. That inspired me to play my best and to do the best I could to inspire the team. It was about community. We had people come in and talk to us, share their stories with us. Life is bigger than football.”

 “It’s about the community,” Eliuk said. “It’s every single guy in that locker room. It’s every single coach behind us. It’s every single hour we practice, every single play we run. Everything has a purpose. And in Linden, the community, the kids, the families, everybody has a purpose.”

 A year ago, one had to wonder if the senior class would leave a lasting legacy. After Friday’s contest, there was no question they did.

 “We have never won the regional title, and we were so close,” Eliuk said. “I feel going through this game, that (the underclassmen) understand what it’s like to prepare for a game like this against an amazing team that produces championships year after year. I’m excited for them and excited for the future of Linden football.”

 “I hope the underclassmen work to the best of their ability and build off of (our season) even more,” Gomez said. “We set the foundation with the new head coach. I love Coach Williams. He’s awesome. I hope they go beyond regionals. I hope they can build off of what we built for them.”

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