The 2013 Cougars are looking to the past as inspiration for the future during their camp.
With a new season almost upon them, an excitement buzzed around the hallways of Jefferson Tuesday afternoon as the players looked forward to an brand new season and a brand new opportunity.
"I'm excited," said A.J. Pierson, a senior full back and linebacker. "It's the first time in a while that I'm legitimately excited for the new season."
Jefferson football players drill at an agility station during Thursday afternoon practice, top, while new coach Craig Hunter shares a laugh with his players. (Journal photos by Ron Agnir)
This newfound energy is stemming from a new coaching staff that the players think will help the team improve. Maybe even turn Jefferson back into a winning program.
As players said "hi" to one another as they arrived for practice, it was clear something had already changed for the Cougars. The boys walked with a purpose.
"Bring back that reputation of having a good program," Pierson said the team hopes to do.
"Bringing tradition back," junior quarterback Andrew King added. "Be the guys that start it again."
Though they possess a goal, the players seem to agree that they owe it all to new head coach Craig Hunter and his coaching staff. The improvement and positive changes the staff has brought to the team has left the players feeling good about the coming season.
"We've known (Hunter) well before. He's a good guy that's easy to get along with," Pierson said. "He brings a lot of energy and excitement. He can definitely motivate you well."
Hunter is feeling what the team is putting out under his coaching.
"Attitudes seemed good. The kids seemed excited, anxious and ready to work hard," he said.
Day 1 of camp had players learning the changes to the offense and defense. They worked on basic techniques such as stances and starts. Hunter said their second day would be focusing on being sure the new installments were retained before they worked on adding even more changes.
"The kids want to be really good. They want to be the group that gets it turned around," Hunter said. "My goal is to try to get us to play a more competitive game, to be excited on the sidelines."
The coach's desires are already coming true on just his second day with the team officially practicing.
The Cougars left the school with the same buzz as they headed toward the field. The skies might not have been sunny but their outlook for the season were.
All the players gathered at the end of the road that connects Jefferson High and Wildwood Middle. Even in the Wildwood parking lot, the team could be heard laughing and encouraging each other.
As they jogged to their practice field, cheers resonated from the group as they pushed each other harder.
"We'll stay and keep fighting even when we get down," King said about this year's team. He is confident that his teammates won't get down just because the score says they are.
"You have to try and set an example for the younger players," Pierson added.
The older players know that if they are the group to turn the program around, then they need to show the younger players how to keep it going.
This isn't a one-and-done team.
Once the team reached the field, it was seconds before cleats were on and they were in lines ready to start warming up. No one was lagging behind, and no one was slowing down even as they continued to run.
"Everything's so new," Hunter said.
Even with players returning, this season seems to be a new beginning for the Cougars. In their minds, the program that lost is behind them. This year, the 2013 Cougars are ready to step up, and it began right from the start of camp.