When Brett Godwin first took the boys soccer head coaching job at Denmark High School in 2018, he said his team started off “nervous, quiet and did not understand what playing soccer took.”
The team went 5-11-1 in their first season and was blown out 5-0 by now region opponent Lambert. The following season, the Danes had a new confidence and were poised to earn a Class 4A playoff berth, but the season was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Now, just three years into the program, Denmark has qualified for the Class 7A playoffs and has a chance to finish second in Region 6-7A and host a first-round match.
“Look how quickly we’ve transitioned from being ‘little brother’ to now,” Godwin said. “We are competing at the highest level and have an established culture. We’ve really started to build that year one. They haven’t been intimidated by anybody. They’re confident. That’s the biggest satisfaction for us.”
The season started with a much-needed confidence after the success of their shortened 2020 season. Godwin said "appreciate the moment’ has been a mantra throughout the entire season after Denmark’s six seniors from 2020 did not get to finish what they helped start the year prior.
“Last year has taught us that none of this is for granted,” Godwin said. “Don’t take everything lightly. A lot of their friends and brothers had their careers ended [by the cancellation]. We aren’t trying to give up any opportunity because we can just rebound in the next game. Nothing is promised.”
Denmark truly has seen the highest of highs and the lowest of lows this season. Their three region wins this season have come against North Forsyth, Lambert and region champion Forsyth Central.
Godwin, a Lambert graduate, called the Danes' victory against the Longhorns his favorite moment of the season so far.
“The Lambert game was the first time we had everyone together to be able to play,” Godwin said. “That was such a well-fought, disciplined battle. It showed we were able to impose our style of play and that we weren’t afraid to compete against the historic programs.”
Both Lambert and Forsyth Central are ranked in the top five of the Class 7A coaches' poll, but Denmark is not. That is largely in part of Denmark’s two region losses coming against the bottom two teams in the region. Their worst match of the season was against Gainesville, losing 4-1. Two weeks later, the Danes lost to West Forsyth in penalty kicks.
Through adversity this season, Godwin said he has been impressed with how well his guys from year one have stepped up as vocal leaders, especially goalie David Gad and defender Rob Huetter.
Both juniors have taken younger players under their wing this season, according to Godwin.
“[Gad and Huetter] sat everybody down before region play and educated all of our players on who we are and what our culture is,” Godwin said. “It’s made a big impact on myself to see how much these guys care about our program. They are what makes us special.”
Gad and Huetter have both made impacts on the field as well. Huetter is the only player to start every single game in Denmark’s young program history. Gad stepped in this season and has shown “great improvement” at goalie, according to Godwin.
Godwin added that midfielders Juan Garcia and Taye Beckford are exceptional at controlling the tempo of play throughout the game, with a calming presence of controlling the ball.
“At our best, we are a very deep and dynamic group of players who all work extremely hard,” Godwin said. “This is the deepest roster we’ve had, and we’ve only been fully healthy for two games this season.”
After spring break, Godwin’s team will return with a non-region match against Dacula before playing their final region game against South Forsyth on Wednesday. If the Danes win, they will finish second in Region 6-7A and host a state playoff game. If not, Denmark will finish fourth in the region and play a region champion.
“I’m not worried at all about this group,” Godwin said. “This is what we’ve been building for. The messages I received over spring break reminds me that they’re not wasting the moment. We have guys that are texting me to turn the lights on at the fields for them.”
Denmark will host the match against South Forsyth, with kickoff scheduled for 8 p.m. Denmark's girls, who wrapped up the No. 3 spot in Region 6-7A last week with a 7-0 win against North Forsyth, will host South before the boys, beginning at 5:55 p.m.