SPRINGFIELD – Have you heard the news? The Springfield Millers football team is the talk of the town.
There’s good reason for the buzz.
Springfield lost only 10 seniors – a small number for a team of almost 50 players – from last year’s team that went 5-2 in league and made the postseason for the first time since 2015.
Part of the excitement was the offseason arrival of Frank Geske as the new head coach. Geske has the 15th-most wins (248) of any Oregon high school football coach, and won state championships at Marist (2009) and Tigard (’03).
After being let go by Marist earlier this year, Geske took over at Springfield, and he’s liked what he’s seen so far.
“The little things that I thought were over their head last week, they’re getting,” Geske said. “Which means we can install new stuff, or just wax the floor again next week and build up those little layers that are gonna make us really good.”
Geske, however, is only part of the reason Springfield is drawing more attention this year. The other part is the talent on the roster, both old and new.
When Geske was hired at Springfield, one of his star players at Marist decided to make the move as well. Sam Keen, listed at 6-foot-3 and 285 pounds, is one of the top lineman in the state. He earned 1st-team all-state offensive line and 2nd-team defensive line last season at Marist.
“This is my home,” Keen said. “I belong in Springfield. I’m a Springfield kid, I moved here from North Carolina and was welcomed in eighth grade.
“When I was at Marist something just felt off, and when coach Geske was fired that gave me the light to switch. All the talent that’s here too, all the people here, they’re my people,” he said.
Having Keen make the move with him has helped Geske install his culture and identity at Springfield.
“Sam is an incredible leader, through how he acts and the way he plays,” Geske said. “He’s showing what real work is, not just going through the motions to be able to put the uniform on. Sam has been an unbelievable leader.”
Keen’s leadership has shown through in many ways, including how he’s helped make fellow lineman Nate Williams – listed as 6-foot-4, 280 pounds – better. Geske said that with the help of Keen, Williams has potential to be the team’s best player.
“He’s made Nate better. In fact, I told the team the other day it ain’t gonna be long before Nate is our best player because of Sam’s influence on him,” Geske said.
Keen joins a slew of talented returning upperclassmen, including star running back Connor Dye. As a junior last season, Dye ran for 766 yards and 10 touchdowns while averaging 6.1 yards per carry as the feature back.
“He’s unbelievable. That kid has no speed other than full out. He can’t go half speed, it’s not possible,” Geske said. “And he’s affecting (wide receiver/defensive back) Jaevon (Spencer). Everybody’s getting into the part where they’re coaching each other.”
The Millers also return senior quarterback Caeleb Kasperek, one of Class 5A’s top returning quarterbacks. Kasperek threw for 1,636 yards and 18 touchdowns last season.
If Kasperek continues to improve under the new offensive system, Geske likes where the team can go.
“He’s way better than he was in June, way better now than he was last week, and he’s gonna be better in three weeks. I’m excited to see what we look like by about game three,” Geske said.
Geske noted Kasperek’s improvement has also come in embracing the freedom of the West Coast-style offense.
“He understands in any pocket of plays, he’s got freedom. And he did it today. Whether he goes backside, or Connor goes backside, either one of them can carry to the point of attack,” he said. “So we call the blocking scheme, but he can call the other deal, and he’s loving that.”
With all that talent, it’s easy to see why Springfield’s got all eyes on them. When a team gets a lot of attention though, it’s easy to lose sight of what’s important.
“They’ve been soldiers about working past all the accolades that are thrown their way. And not just riding on that and ending up being 7-3 just because they’re one year older one year better,” Geske said. “The football smarts thing is getting better too, and that is the absolute biggest key. Every time we can get that football IQ up a point or two we become better.”
As the team becomes better, the expectations get higher. The Millers aren’t ones to shy away from the pressure though.
“The floor is playoffs, and the ceiling is state in my opinion. State is what I want, it’s what I transferred for,” Keen said. “Hopefully I’ll have a good senior season, and I want to bring these people with me. That’s been my goal since I transferred.”
While playoffs and state are the postseason goals, the team has some regular season goals too.
“Beat Marist, beat Thurston, win league. Those are the main goals for the regular season,” Keen said.
Keen’s coach couldn’t agree more.
“I think Sam’s dead right. I think if we knock off Marist and we knock off Thurston, we should be thinking about a league title,” Geske said.
As with many things in life, there’s more to the story with those regular-season goals. In his 35 years as a high school head coach, Geske has 248 wins. The way Springfield’s schedule shook out, the Millers’ first home game is week two, against Marist. Meaning Geske could hit a special milestone against his old school.
“Too many people over at Marist are saying, ‘You know, coach, Marist is really special this year.’ I had to start keeping track of it, because everybody over here was asking,” Geske said. “They keep saying it’s going to be my 250th win, which is assuming we beat Ridgeview. But this place thinks that game is a big deal, so I’m not going to discount that.”
Some coaches shy away from calling out other teams or programs. Geske speaks respectfully about Marist and rival Thurston, but he’s not afraid to lean into the importance of those games. Denying that those are big games would be futile, and Geske knows it.
This season, Springfield gets Thurston at home as the Millers are looking to take down the Colts for the first time since 2015.
“I told them, I’m not even going to say that T-word from across town. I don’t even say the T-word school from across town, and they love that,” Geske said. “It’s a big deal. We’re gonna wear blue for home games, but we’re wearing black for them because they love their black uniforms, so we’ll make that real special.”
It won’t be easy to upset Thurston and take the league crown from them. After all, the Colts have won five straight Midwestern League titles.
While on-field success is undeniably important – Geske left Franklin, Tigard, and Marist as each school’s all-time leader in wins – there are other ways of measuring success. Geske knows how to build up contenders. How does he plan on making Springfield a success story?
“Draining every drop out of them. Draining every single drop. Attitude and effort is everything to me, regardless of talent. If I see a bunch of hungry eyes,and they’re exhausted, I know I’ve got it right,” Geske said. “That’s really the deal for me. And it always has been.”