By Max Goodwin
It’s been a special season at Center High School, especially for the 20 seniors on the football team.
Center enters the district playoffs this Friday with a spotless 9-0 record, a Missouri River Valley Conference championship, and a bye week to rest up in the first round as the top seed in the district. They will play against Carl Junction in round two of the Class 4, District 7 tournament on their home turf.
The team forged a bond that goes back to their sophomore year. That was 2020, the year COVID interrupted all of our lives. All school was virtual and Center players had to get to the high school after being online all day.
“We just spent so much time together and we had no other time with anyone else in school,” said Delong. “It was just us because everybody else was on the computer.”
Center has only had a few seniors each of the last two years. “So these guys have played a lot of football,” Delong said.
One senior in particular embodies the spirit of the 2022 class. Harold Tsafack didn’t grow up familiar with the game of football the way most of his teammates did. He was born in Cameroon and mostly played soccer as a young kid.
Harold didn’t start playing football until middle school after moving to the United States when his father, Armand started a job as a math teacher at a French language charter school, Academie Lafayette, in Brookside.
The same friends he would go on to play with through his high school years are the reason he began playing in middle school. He saw how much football mattered to his classmates and wanted to be a part of that.
“They were talking smack because I was a big kid. I just wanted to go out and show them what I could do,” Harold said.
Once he began playing organized football at Center, Harold’s skills and knowledge of the game grew exponentially. He feels like he’s still learning every day. His frame has filled out with muscle he plays but coaches say it’s unbelievable how far he has progressed in the last few years through hard work and determination.
Now, Harold is fielding scholarship offers from several multiple colleges and plans to play college football. It doesn’t hurt that he also speaks several languages and has a 4.0 GPA.
“I’ve been surprised,” Armand Tsafack said of how fast his son has learned the sport. “But a group of them were interested and they put their mind to it. And they have a good coach, the coaches are so good.”
Bryan Delong has built something through Center Yellowjackets football that will have a lasting impact on the lives of the young people going through the program. “Harold is more disciplined,” Armand said. “Not just as a football player, as a person.”
Because he was introduced to football later in life than most teammates, he says he’s still constantly learning details of the game. “I’ve got a lot of room for improvement,” he says.
Coach Delong says he’s heard Harold talk about fromer Chiefs running back Christian Okoye who is from Nigeria. On senior night, Harold played the part and ran for a 60-yard touchdown.
Armand’s love for the sport has grown just as fast as his son. He wears a red Chiefs zip up as he stands in the front row just before kickoff on senior night. Harold says his dad is a bigger Chiefs fan than he is. “Every game,” Armand says.”I watch every game,”
As the son of a math teacher, Harold is used to a high expectations in the classroom. He’s a perfectionist on the football field as well, checking with coaches regularly to make sure he’s doing what he’s supposed to.
His leadership demonstrates what Center football is all about. He’s determined, hard-working and caring.
“Football is all about life lessons,” said Associate Coach Steffon Brown. “If all you get out of our program is how to block, how to tackle, and scoring touchdowns, then we didn’t do our job as coaches.”
When the team went through COVID together they each found ways to get to work, lifting weights, doing their own workouts, and getting themselves to practice. As a group, coaches and players, they learned how to persevere through the uncertainty of a pandemic.
The bond that was created has shown throughout this perfect 9-0 season for the Yellowjackets.
If the Yellowjackets are set to make a run deep into the Class 4 state playoffs it will be based on the strength of their senior leadership and the friendships they’ve made over the last four years. Harold Tsafack is a great representation of that, but he’s just one of them.
“He’s a special young man. He’s made the most out of coming to America,” Delong said. “Everybody’s got their own story. But it’s a quality group of individuals and families and we’re lucky.”