Brad Spencer is a North Central College lifer.

“For me as I say, I’m kind of the new old guy,” said Spencer, North Central College football’s first-year head coach.

Spencer grew up around the Cardinals program while his dad Rick spent four decades in school administration. After a four-year career as the Cardinals all-time leader in receiving yards, receptions and touchdown catches, Spencer transitioned to wide receivers coach, then was promoted to offensive coordinator in 2015 before taking over the head coaching job this season for Jeff Thorne.

“I was blessed to take over the program from Jeff, then from his dad John whom I played for,” Spencer said. “My philosophy is theirs, you want to develop great human beings and you want your players to have fun playing, build great relationships and if you are doing that then you are building the right foundations for your players to block and tackle and win a lot of football games.”

The transition has been seamless with Spencer guiding the Cardinals to a 13-0 record, behind the nation’s top-ranked offense and defense.

“Every day during practice there’s a lot of competition going on, we like to start off practice Tuesday and Wednesdays, 1s on 1s going against each other and we really just make each other better and it showed this season,” said sophomore quarterback Luke Lehnen. “Five points is what they are allowing, we are scoring a lot too, so it works out.”

Saturday North Central will host the national semifinal for the first time, facing 3rd ranked Mary Hardin-Baylor who beat the Cardinals 57-24 in last year’s Stagg Bowl.

“It left a bad taste in our mouth, that’s what we’ve been looking for all year, that’s revenge and trying to write our wrongs,” said junior wide receiver DeAngelo Hardy.

“Not very many times in life to you get to revenge something that’s happened before, so I think it’s going to be a cool experience and we are ready to play them,” said junior defensive lineman Dan Lester.

“That experience of losing that game stuck with me, and I think it stuck with me by choice,” said senior running back Ethan Greenfield. “Just remind myself to remember this feeling and do everything I can to not have that feeling again.”

A win would not just avenge last year’s loss but propel the Cardinals to their third national championship appearance in a row, building the program into something Spencer could not have imagined two decades ago.

“No even when I started coaching,” Spencer said. “That’s why I decided in 2000 to come here, I wanted to be part of the change and wanted to be part of a leadership role and hopefully 15 to 20 years from now they are looking at North Central football the same way we look at some of those other big powers.”