DENVER - On Hampden and Holly Street in south Denver, you can see the rise of Sparta. On the battlefield, there's a new confidence, a new approach to Thomas Jefferson football.
"Once you get that into your blood and start winning, you don't want to lose," head coach Derrick Martin said. "I think that's what we've got going on right now."
The Spartans haven't seen a winning season since 2009, but the losing mentality appears to be a thing of the past with the arrival of the new head coach. Martin, a 2003 graduate of the high school, has returned to lead the Spartans back to their winning ways, though, it's hard to say he ever really left.
"He would just pop up randomly. He'd be at volleyball games, basketball games, anywhere. You'd just see him around the school sometimes," senior quarterback Dane Washington said of Martin's presence over the past few years.
"[Martin] went to the NFL, won two Super Bowls. I guess we were all in shock that he would come back and give back to his school like that," senior Justin Vigil added.
After playing his college days at the University of Wyoming, Martin was drafted by the Baltimore Ravens in the sixth round of the 2006 playoffs. The safety went on to play for seven years in the league, including a stop in both Green Bay (2010) and New York (2011) where he would win a Super Bowl with the Packers and Giants, respectively.
"[The Thomas Jefferson players] understand the platform I played on, and I always tell them about building a stage they want to perform on," Martin said. "They walk with a little more swagger to their step, and they've bought in to the winning culture [and the] winning atmosphere."
"They're starting to come together and understand that Spartan brotherhood that's helping them win games and finish games stronger."
Martin is now using his experiences to get the Spartans back on top of the 5A leaderboard. The team is off to a 5-1 start after its victory over rival Kennedy on Friday, and he hopes to continue that trend, while also bringing TJ's heritage back to the forefront.
"Just to see how the traditions fell away, and the culture and the comradery that we had as a school around the football team, it was just good for me to come back and try and bring some of that back," he said. "We had such a great tradition, and it did so much for me as a youth growing up, I just thought if I could bring it back to the kids, they would enjoy it as much as I did."
The team has already started the process -- baby steps. Martin brought back the Joe Spartan logo to the football helmets, and the boys spent the summer off-season, bonding.
"We really built on this family that we've got," Washington said. "I feel like [Martin] leads me in the right direction. He's going to help me get where I need to go."
"He's brought a whole different attitude [to the team]," Vigil said. "[Martin] is really good at connecting with the kids."
It's clear to anyone who is watching, there's a new brown and gold on the field. The players say Martin and the coaching staff make them want to play for them. And that's exactly what fans are seeing on Friday nights.
Thomas Jefferson will play Lincoln on Saturday, October 15 at 11 a.m. at All-City Stadium in Denver.
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