Chad Augspurger's phone rang at 6 a.m. Monday. The voice on the other end was Kyle Bracey, his teammate on Chenoa High School's 1996 Class 1A state championship football team.
Two days earlier, as Augspurger plotted defensive strategy in Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley's 2A state semifinal win over Sterling Newman, Dan Butler and Chad Seeman were near the end zone cheering the Falcons on. Butler was the quarterback and Seeman a receiver/linebacker on the ’96 Chenoa champs.
Augspurger can't recall the intricate details of that state title run. Chances are Bracey, Butler and Seeman can't either.
It's OK. They have something better.
"As the years go by the memories fade, but the relationships with your teammates stay with you," Augspurger said. "The bond you form going through something like this is strong. I'm still very, very close with the guys on that team."
That has been Augspurger's message to the GCMS players this week. Cherish the moment and understand that while the season is down to four quarters, time never runs out on friendship and camaraderie.
Augspurger was a standout senior linebacker and offensive guard at Chenoa in 1996. The Redbirds' leading tackler, he was "the heart and soul of the defense," according to his coach at the time, Dean Magro.
"He makes our calls," Magro said the week of the title game. "He's able to recognize formations and make sure the kids are properly lined up and read their keys. Without him, we wouldn't be as good."
No one in Gibson City, Melvin or Sibley can be surprised by that.
Augspurger has dissected opponents' tendencies, put players in the proper position and honed in on "keys" all season as coordinator of the state's stingiest defense (6.2 points per game).
Head coach Mike Allen repeatedly has heaped praise on Augspurger for his tireless work and ability to connect/communicate with the players.
Allen will tell you that without him, the Falcons "wouldn't be as good."
Ranked second, they are 13-0 and preparing to face No. 7 Maroa-Forsyth (12-1) in the 2A championship game Friday at DeKalb.
In 1996, Chenoa's preparations centered around VHS tapes of two games involving the title-game opponent, Northwestern-LaHarpe. The tapes were in the hands of the coaches and viewed at school via a TV monitor and a VCR.
Today, technology enables players and coaches to access opposing video 24-7 on laptops, tablets, phones, etc.
It's a different world, yet the one-time Chenoa linebacker will tell you not everything has changed.
"You get a lot of the same emotions (as in 1996)," Augspurger said. "There is the evolution of the feeling after you win the semifinal. You're so elated that you made it. Then you get into late Saturday night and Sunday and you want to get into the game plan and you want to win it.
"I remember having those feelings as a player. At Chenoa we kept saying, 'We just want to make it, we just want to make it.' Then we were like, 'No, now we want to win it.' "
The Redbirds' 35-28 victory came in part because their senior inside linebacker was so well prepared. Among Augspurger's team-high 13 tackles were 12 solos and four tackles for loss.
He was able to "Ignore the Noise," a slogan the GCMS coaches have hit on this week with the players.
"We told them there are going to be a lot of distractions," Augspurger said. "There's going to be a stronger media presence. Everyone is going to stop you in the community. You're going to be in a big Division I stadium. You have to stay focused and ignore the things that could distract you.
"I just remember it helped tremendously once the game started. You lock in."
And 21 years later, your phone rings at 6 a.m. Your teammates are treasured friends.
Your bond lives on.