SALINA, Kan. - 18 games, 18 losses. That was the story, all you heard about for the Salina Central Mustangs entering 2018, two straight seasons without a win for a historically great program.
Entering 2019, all of that is out the window. The Mustangs ran by Eisenhower to snap the losing streak to open 2018, kickstarting a 7-3 campaign for first year head coach Mark Sandbo.
Now entering 2019, the mindset surrounding the program has changed.
"This year I think we're more excited than ever," said defensive back Gage Prester.
"Oh [our confidence] is going through the roof," added lineman Houston Griffits. "After coming back from last year with Coach Sandbo, I really think we're going to do well."
The confidence extends from the players to the sideline, where Sandbo will enter year two with a target on his team's back.
"We walk into 2019 a little different that we walked into 2018," said Sandbo, "but I think our kids are the same."
The same outside of graduation losses--losses that include a pair of all-state players in RB Taylon Peters and DB Ben Driver.
"We have a couple nice pieces, a couple pieces of the puzzle that graduated--17 seniors last year--but we got a lot of kids that bought into what we are doing and will fit in nicely to what we're doing," said Sandbo.
At the halfback spot, you don't exactly replace a guy like Peters easily. The now Washburn Ichabod rushed for 1,719 yards and 20 scores his senior year, taking conference player of the year honors.
But Sandbo thinks he has someone ready to step in to fill Peters' role in senior Cooper Chard.
"When we went through our summer camp, he really just kind of separated, that we think is gonna be a really nice piece--a surprisingly nice piece of the puzzle that we we're anticipating probably the end of 2018," said Sandbo.
Griffits, joined by Evan Bishop & Jake Eisenhauer as three returning starters along the offensive line, echos those sentiments.
"I was a little worried at the beginning of the season, but after seeing Cooper Chard go at it, he's been working hard and he's been getting stuff done," said Griffits.
Chard will be joined in the backfield by a returning starter at quarterback in Jackson Kavanaugh. Kavanaugh threw for over 1,500 yards and 18 scores as a junior. He also gets one of his top targets back in Quinton Stewart, a 6-4 tight end that committed to play college ball at Oklahoma State earlier in the offseason.
Then on defense, the Mustangs bring back 6 starters, including Stewart as a standout on the defensive line, They must replace Driver in the secondary, but Prester leads an otherwise experienced group of returners.
One difference you'll see is a new face leading the defense, with former Concordia Head Coach Austin Kingsbury taking over as defensive coordinator. But the change in coaching doesn't mean a change in philosophy.
"We're kind of keeping the same defense, just a couple more different techniques" said Prester.
"He's been a part of a similar turnaround at a lower level with Larned High School," said Sandbo. "We talk about at Salina Central that best is the standard. We expect you to be at your best daily, and we want to hire the best. We expect to be the best out here, and Austin Kingsbury's a guy that I think can do it at any level."
Central will open their year on the road with a visit to Eisenhower, the same squad they topped to end the long losing streak in 2018.
SALINA CENTRAL SCHEDULE
9/6 - @ Eisenhower
9/13 - vs Derby
9/20 - vs Salina South
9/27 - @ Hutchinson
10/4 - @ Campus
10/11 - vs Newton
10/17 - vs Maize
10/25 - @ Hays