West Genesee football head coach Joe Corley has seen this before -- his team coming off a losing season, ignored, forgotten, not expected to do all that much.
That was in 2007, and every Wildcat fan knows how that season ended -- in the Carrier Dome, with a state Class AA championship.
To hope for that same kind of magic in 2010 might be stretching the imagination. But Corley, in his third year as head coach at WG, said it's refreshing to feel hungry again, that it's preferable to the high expectations his first two teams had to deal with.
"There's no target on our backs," he said. "We're coming up from underneath, yet our expectations have not changed one bit."
What has changed, for the better, is participation. At the end of the Wildcats' disappointing 1-8 campaign in 2009, barely 30 players were active. Now, more than 45 players are in camp, and Corley said their approach is vastly improved from a season ago.
"There are going to be growing pains and mistakes," he said. "But they have a strong confidence in themselves and a swagger, and they learn fast."
Meeting high expectations will mean that a lot of young players will need to play at a high level quickly, as the roster on both sides of the ball is dotted with underclassmen stepping into key roles.
That includes junior Matt Naton, who takes over at quarterback and also has earned a role as team captain. Naton moves over from wide receiver (where he started in '09), bringing a different perspective to the passing game plus a unique combination of a potent arm with speed to escape the pocket when necessary.
In the Wildcats' trademark spread offense, Sean Howard is the team's primary runner, but he won't have to take all the carries. Kasean Sparks moves up from the JV ranks, and Corley might give some carries to highly-touted freshman Nasean Howard (Sean's younger brother).