The De Smet football program is off to its best start since 2009.
The Spartans [3-0] put their undefeated season on the line against the visiting CBC Cadets [3-0] in a 7 p.m. Metro Catholic Conference game Friday [Sept. 14]. Both teams are 1-0 in league play.
CBC is the defending Class 6 state champion. The Cadets have won the conference crown for the past eight years.
The last time CBC lost a conference game came in 2012 when De Smet defeated the Cadets 56-35. Last year, CBC trounced the Spartans 42-7.
“I’m looking forward to the game to see how my team responds,” said De Smet coach Rob Steeples, who is in his third season leading the program.
CBC is ranked No. 1 in the Missouri Media’s Class 6 poll. De Smet rests in the No. 5 slot.
This season, the Spartans opened with a 37-2 win over Hazelwood Central. De Smet then went to Columbia and defeated Rock Bridge 35-17. Last week, De Smet scored an MCC win by stopping St. Louis University High 35-7.
“I’m excited for the kids and how we’ve started the season, “Steeples said. “This is the opportunity they created. We’re getting better every week. The community support is good. That’s been very encouraging. We’re not looking ahead. We’re taking it one week at time.”
De Smet went 2-8 in Steeples’ first season. Last fall, the Spartans fell to 1-9.
Seeing his squad find success this season is gratifying for Steeples.
“I can’t say it’s a huge difference in what we’re doing, I’ll be honest,” Steeples said. “We’ve been building to this. The last two classes here took some lumps but we get going the right way. We learned from those experiences. Now they walk on in and we’re winning and there is more reason to buy in to what we’re doing.
“The growth is the biggest difference. They believe in us as coaches and in each other as teammates. Relationships are something you can’t expedite. You have to build trust.”
Steeples was a standout athlete who graduated from De Smet in 2008. He played in college at Missouri and Memphis.
He attempted to have a pro career in the National Football League. He signed with the Rams in 2013 as an undrafted free agent and was cut. Steeples signed practice-squad deals with Minnesota, Kansas City and Dallas. The Cowboys cut him in August of 2015.
De Smet hired him to be its coach in 2016.
Steeples is dedicated to helping return the program to prominence.
He knows about winning at De Smet. Steeples was a sophomore on De Smet’s 2005 team that won the Class 6 state championship and a senior on De Smet’s 2007 state semifinalist.
It wasn’t easy to turn the program around as the last two years have shown.
“Winning goes a long way toward buying in by the players,” Steeples said. “The work ethic of the coaching staff is transparent to them. They see we’re working hard to get them better.
“I wanted the success so bad for them. To see them getting positive results from hard work is the most gratifying part for me. They put in work and now they are seeing the fruits of their labors. They are all unselfish. They’ve attained this in a positive way.”
Many Spartans have played big roles so far this year.
“It’s really been a team effort,” Steeples said. “It’s been an all-hands-on-deck type of season. We’re young. We have a lot of guys stepping up and finding out about themselves. I’m excited about the growth process.”
Coming off the win against SLUH gave his team a confidence boost. Before beating SLUH, De Smet had lost its previous 13 league games. Its last conference triumph was a 16-14 decision over SLUH in 2013.
“SLUH is a very good team. I have a lot of respect to give them,” Steeples said. “It was so good for us to get a conference win. Every conference game will be a brawl this year, like a heavyweight bout. To get that win felt great for all of us.
“The way our schedule is, each week feels like a big game. It’s all about opportunities. SLUH was an important learning experience for us.”
His squad enjoyed the victory over SLUH.
“They were pretty excited to win. Honestly, each one feels good. They were very eager to learn from it. They are wanting to do it again and go out to get better. They enjoyed the team win but pretty quickly they wanted to break down the film. They have a commitment to grow.”
CBC has mowed down its three opponents so far. The Cadets defeated O’Fallon (Ill.) 58-6 in the opener and then stopped Edwardsville 58-45 before dispatching MCC foe Chaminade 49-7 last week.
“That’s a big opportunity for us. It should be a very revealing game for us,” Steeples said. “Some teams have to wait for the playoffs to see how they respond in a big game. This is a big game. They’re a well-established program. We’ll have to bring our ‘A” game as we do pretty much every week.
“I’m glad it’s at home. It should be a good crowd with a lot of alumni in the stands.”
Steeples said watching film on CBC shows the Cadets to be a “well-coached group of kids. They play the game the way it’s supposed to be played. They don’t make mistakes and they impose their will on a team. It’s a very talented group.”
For his team, Steeples said the Spartans to have stay focused in the game.
“For them, they have to do their job and do what they have to do on the field,” Steeples said. “They have trust their teammates. It’s a simple message really. Do your job and be disciplined and play together.
“That and obviously score more points than CBC.”