As practice came to a close Tuesday evening and Hug football coach Derek Bennett addressed his squad, several players stood up, unprovoked, and spoke. Their words differed, but all carried the same message.
This year can be different.
The once-proud Hug football program, state finalists as recently as 2005, hit rock-bottom last year with an 0-10 record that saw it outscored 534-99. Bennett was in his first season as head coach, but players attribute the lack of success to poor leadership among former teammates.
"The seniors that we had, they didn't step up and show the underclassmen how it's supposed to be done," senior quarterback Jawon Bennett said. "The younger kids were being more disciplined and having more leadership than the seniors last year. This year, we're the seniors."
Senior wide receiver Kenndel Goins, likely to be among Bennett's go-to targets this year and the team's only returning all-league pick, echoed his quarterback's sentiments.
"Our seniors are actually dedicated this year, and we want to work," Goins said. "We're not fighting and arguing like last year."
Compounding the lack of leadership last season was the reality that the team might have needed it more than ever.
"We kind of had a young squad, too, a lot of young kids on the team," senior cornerback Tevin Montgomery said. "Now, we're grown up, more mature, with our head in the game."
But the "learning experience," as players called it, of 2011 is now history, and this year's Hug seniors are determined to not let it cloud their season.
"Last year's season was very disappointing," Goins said. "We're not letting that dominate us this year."
If anything, the coach said last season can be motivation for the seniors.
"They know what's at stake, and they don't want their legacy to be as a losing team," Derek Bennett said. "They want to turn it around. I think that they are going to get that done."
Bennett accepts that his team will be small in number and expects about 32 players, necessitating that nearly everyone play both ways. Still, he said he already sees the potential for a productive offense anchored by returning players at skill positions, such as Jawon Bennett, Goins and senior running back Jonathan Watson and a stout line led by senior left guard Tyrel Johnson.
"I think we have great potential to rebound from last year because this group, these seniors, is a great bunch of leaders," Derek Bennett said. "I think that they're leaders and they're going to set the tone and make sure everyone works hard."
Watson said the team is on a mission this year.
"We're out to prove that we're not the old Hug," he said. "We can actually win games. We don't (stink). We're actually a team."
The seniors do not deny that they are eagerly looking forward to that first victory this year. However, once it happens, it will become part of the past, just like last year.
"It's just going to keep us on the path," Watson said. "Every win is just as good as the next one. All we want to do is just improve from last season."