This time of year, every high school football team is full of players with wide eyes and even bigger predictions.
The number of teams that believe they can win a state championship is as high as it will be all season. At St. James, though, the Sharks have something different on their minds.
“That’s not part of our expectation,” senior Alan Crum said of a potential title run. “Our expectation is a winning record and a trip to the playoffs.”
Crum wasn’t being a downer. The combination of those two things – St. James has not recorded a winning record in 10 seasons and has been to the postseason just twice – would be a major coup for the Sharks.
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Whether it was the foundation of the program, being a part of a tough region or a lack of overall ability in certain seasons, it simply hasn’t come together.
What interim coach Robby Brown hopes, though, is taking the focus off the past will help move the program forward.
“It’s not like changing the whole culture,” said Brown, who was named the team’s coach after Mark Fischer returned to Virginia in the spring after three years. “You’re not going to change it overnight. You have to give them ownership.”
It starts with a senior class that is 26 deep.
Brown has leaned on them to improve practices, but also to focus on the next game – as opposed to the losses that have mounted since the program’s inception. In the last three years alone, the team lost 22 games.
Brown doesn’t expect to have the right combination of players to end those losing ways right away. He’ll regularly shuffle positions, primarily at receiver and the defensive line.
The team will keep the misdirection offense employed under the previous coach, and it will center around Crum.
The senior captain eclipsed 400 yards rushing a season ago despite missing some time and sharing carries.
A trio of quarterbacks that includes Steven Deible, Zach Werba and Markell Johnson could all see time under center in the run-oriented offense. The hope with all that shifting is that St. James is better prepared for games later in the season.
Three of the team’s first four losses in 2013 were by a single score or less. The last four were all double-digit defeats.
Still, that large senior class has stuck with the process.
“It seems like our seniors have not been giving up,” Crum said. “Since I was a sophomore, this group has been really together. We’ve been building up. The players haven’t changed. We feel like this is our season.”