After beating Cheverus 35-7 on Saturday, Windham High went from a football team hoping to go deep into the playoffs to one feeling it can win the Class A championship.

Outwardly, that was the message the Eagles delivered. Inwardly, Windham might have felt that confidence since the start of the season. The success of a season depends on a lot more than what happens on the field.

To that end, head coach Matt Perkins and assistant coach Phil Rossetti established a leadership council composed of 12 players, including underclassmen, to discuss issues and concerns among players. The council, Perkins said, allows players to have a voice and police themselves.

The council meets every Monday during the season, followed by a team meeting where council members relay what was discussed. On Thursdays, the council invites a guest speaker to talk to the team on the word of the week. This week the word is “responsibility.”

“It’s brought us closer together as a team,” said Matt Roy, a senior defensive end.

The leadership council idea started after the 2012 season, when the Eagles lost in the first round of the playoffs.

“We had some great seniors who graduated,” Perkins said. “We had a real young group coming in. It was a good time for change.

“I wanted to change the character of the team. I didn’t feel we were headed in the right direction. We felt we weren’t doing enough to push the players.”

From a conditioning standpoint, Perkins knew the team had to get faster and more flexible. He had physical trainers work with the team.

“We’ve always had big, strong kids who could move straight ahead,” he said. “We needed to improve our speed and move laterally.”

Moreover, Perkins wanted the team to be clear on expectations – on and off the field. Players have to follow team rules, get good grades and comport themselves well in school and in the community.

“You can’t assume a teenager knows what’s expected of him by just telling them. You have to put it forth in clear language so that they know what the coaching staff expects of them as people. The leadership council helps to clear the air,” Perkins said.

“When a player knows what is expected of him and they have a voice within the team, the player becomes more coachable and it makes the whole team experience better.”

The leadership council set team goals last season and again this year. The overall goal for this season: Play to the best of their ability. To help achieve the goal, the team emphasizes terms such as family (treating each other with respect), execution, improvement, overcoming adversity, composure, confidence, toughness and awareness.

Junior receiver/defensive back Eric Webb said the program has helped in several ways.

“It’s bridged the gap between the upper and underclassmen,” he said. “Before there weren’t a lot of leaders. Each of us feels we have a stake in the success of the team. Our grades have improved.”

“Everyone is the same,” said Zach Davis, another senior. “The seniors are no different than the juniors. The juniors are no different than the sophomores and the same with the freshmen. There are no cliques.”

A former NFL player John Bunting (Eagles) and college head coach (University of North Carolina) spoke to the team last season. Other speakers have included Kendrick Ballantyne, who played at UMaine and Northeastern, and had a tryout with the Baltimore Ravens; former high school football coach Mike Haley; Windham Athletic Director Rich Drummond; former Windham and University of Maine player Raybone Charles; and a former state legislator, Bill Diamond.

The team even heard from Gary Potvin, a local businessman who does a Vince Lombardi impression. His topic was the word “grit.”

Some of the players had heard of Lombardi, the legendary Green Bay Packers coach. Others didn’t know he had died long before they were born.

One player told Perkins that he couldn’t believe Lombardi had come all the way from Green Bay to talk to the team.

There’s still a little more learning to be done.

Every week a player wins a T-shirt for best exemplifying the word of the week. On the front is Windham football and on the back is the word. This week’s word, responsibility, was won by Davis, the Eagles’ talented tight end/linebacker.

Perkins said that over the past two seasons, “I’ve seen a total change in the players.”

Added senior lineman Hunter Bowen: “We’ve grown up more.”