Past preseason conversations with Spanish Springs coach Scott Hare always sounded similar.
From last season: "We've been good the last few years, now we want to be great."
From 2010: "We're ready to take that next step, but in order to take the next step you have to be a well-rounded team."
From 2009: "We're 9 years old, and it's a nice thing to say we're getting better, we made some strides. I think it's time now to put ourselves in a higher echelon. It's time to put up or shut up."
From 2008: "I would say last year was a realistic progression. We adjusted a little bit and made some strides. And with this year being year three, obviously, we need to make a couple more strides."
An offseason conversation with his coaching mentor has Hare singing a different tune as the 2012 season approaches.
"He said it is not just about your team. If you were only playing against yourself, then yeah, you'd have a good idea about taking that next step," Hare said. "But also has to do with who you're playing against and what they have coming back. His thing was that I shouldn't be, 'We're better; we're better; we're better this year.' But to take a narrowing view and not worry about the whole season but take it one day at a time. Play each game as it comes and then at the end of the season, you'll know if you were better or worse.
"This fall, I haven't looked at it as where are we compared to where were we last year or the year before. I'm not sure how thinking like that has helped me. ... Where do we fit? I don't know because I only know what my team looks like. That's a different answer than you've gotten from me in the past."
Hare's change already trickled down to his players, who are enjoying the new mind-set and approach.
"It's a different mentality," senior linebacker Vince Agliolo said. "The difference is we don't want to talk about what we can do. We want to show what we can do."
"We want to be a higher class school," added two-way lineman Jake Martensen. "But we want to talk with our pads. It's what we've been showing in practice, raising the bar."
Hare said he might have been too optimistic in the past when it came to expectations. Players said this year's atmosphere is more positive.
"We're going in the right direction," linebacker Nikk Audenried said.
The Cougars, who lost their final seven games last year to finish 3-8, have reason for optimism this year. Three-year starters in Agliolo, Audenried and Martensen will anchor the defense, while quarterback Hunter Fralick returns after he threw for 2,063 yards and 15 touchdowns last season as a sophomore.
The last time Spanish Springs had a returning quarterback, in 2010 with Tanner Oates, the Cougars went 7-3.
"We're a different team than last year," Fralick said. "It was a transition for all of us. But it will be better for all of us."