Barbera Rookies upset Spanish hierarchy with victory over Badalona Dracs

For the past five seasons, the story in Spanish football has been exactly the same. Upstarts have come and gone, but the Badalona Dracs have remained untouchable. Coast through the season, dominate the playoffs, win another crown, rinse and repeat.

Now there is a new challenger emerging and that narrative might finally be coming to a close.

When the Barbera Rookies rolled over the Dracs in a 35-20 victory last weekend, it was as large a statement as is possible to make in the small football nation. Hype had built around the burgeoning program all year and this was more than simple confirmation. Even with an early injury to Badalona starting quarterback Glen Cuiellette, the five-time reigning champions and their 2021 title game hero Sergi Gonzalo looked powerless to stop a dominant stretch of 35 unanswered points that the Rookies posted before taking their foot off the gas in the second half. In the eyes of many, it looked an awful lot like a coronation.

Of course, this was simply the latest in a string of outstanding performances in the team’s unlikely ascendance from the depths of Division 3 competition just two years ago to new Spanish title favorite. In the eyes of Sebastian Serrano, it is a story that more people in Europe should be paying more attention to.

Barbera Rookies Mexican QB Luis Enrique García Rosado Photo: Mikel Trigueros

The veteran coach and Spanish Football Hall of Famer has seen it all in his 27 years on the sideline. In fact, the last time the Rookies were in the top division, he was the club’s head coach. Six years later, he has returned as an assistant with what feels like a different organization thanks to one man: head coach Eduardo Torrecillas Sanchez.

“I’ve been everywhere and what is surprising me and made me come to this team is what this head coach is doing for the team in terms of philosophy, in terms of commitment from the players and from the coaching staff too,” Serrano explains.

“This team came to the first division like six years ago, and then they fumbled down again to third division, but this guy, this coach, has brought them back up in just three years since he’s been here. There’s been nothing but success for the team.”

Torrecillas arrived in Barbera almost like a gift from the heavens. A local kid, he had made his way to the US to play for Santa Barbara City College and later earn a degree at San Diego State, before breaking into coaching with his JuCo alma mater. That path would carry him to heights rarely reached by European coaches, as Torrecillas spent the 2015 season as a minority intern with the NFL’s San Diego Chargers. Yet by late 2018, he had chosen to return home to Spain for family reasons, offering his services to the nearby Rookies.

Since then, Torrecillas has transformed every aspect of the organization, from the youth level on up. His reputation drew Serrano back into the fold for the team’s return to the top league this season and he has been nothing short of blown away.

“He’s bringing a pro philosophy. Everything is so organized, everything is on film. We’ve got six coaches on the coaching staff, which for Spain is a lot,” Serrano says. “Now in every position, we have a coach. We have a lot of individual time. The organization, it comes from him and it’s really good. He is organizing the team in a way that I haven’t seen in a long time, not since the Barcelona Dragons in NFL Europe.”

Rookies DB Jordi Brugnani #11 picking off a pass Photo: Mikel Trigueros

In a country that already boasts a Dragons ELF revival and the dynastic Dracs, that is incredibly high praise and Torrecillas has earned it. While imported American brothers Miles and Nolan Corpening and ELF standout Jordi Brugnani make a fearsome trio of additions in the Rookies‘ secondary — chipping in with two defensive touchdowns against the Dracs — and Mexican quarterback Luis Enrique Garcia has impressed, the bulk of the squad is locally developed and recruited talent. That is the trickle down effect from the high quality of coaching Torrecillas has insisted on at all levels.

“Winning is a consequence of what you do during the week, during the preseason, during the offseason,” Serrano says, quoting his boss. “Winning doesn’t come because you played this game very good. It comes from far behind. It comes from the work you’ve done before.”

That work has been enough to catapult a Division 3 program into the driver’s seat for the Spanish title, but the Rookies understand that one statement win over the Dracs simply won’t be enough. Just last year, the Las Rozas Black Demons upset the powerhouse in the regular season and looked like they might buy their way to the crown, before the Dracs exacted sweet revenge in the championship. It’s an important lesson that Spain’s newest contenders are taking to heart.

“When we won against the Dracs, everybody was so happy and really celebrating, like we won against the champions so this thing is ours. My speech after the game was essentially, ‘Listen, guys, you don’t win a championship on a regular season game. You win a championship on a final, so let’s make sure we make it to the final and then win,'” Serrano stresses.

Getting there will take more dominant performances over the next few months, but one thing is certain. There isn’t a team in Spain that will be surprised by the Barbera Rookies any longer.

J.C. Abbott is a student at the University of British Columbia and amateur football coach in Vancouver, Canada. A CFL writer for 3DownNation, his love of travel has been the root of his fascination with the global game.