Despite a decade of low participation and losing seasons, the Sparta High School football team thinks this is the year the program begins to turn things around.
With its highest athlete turnout in a decade, head coach John Blaha is working to turn a 1-8 team in 2014 into a playoff contender this season.
It starts with the offensive line, which features an experienced group of players, including three-year starters Damian Dauphin and Kody Smith.
"The O-line is definitely where we're going to make our money," said Blaha, who enters his fourth season as head coach since returning to the program. "If they're not good, it doesn't matter how good the rest of the guys are."
Dauphin was one of the seniors to begin starting as a sophomore. He believes the group of players that make up the starting line thrive because they know each other, and the program, so well.
"We have such a strong bond to the point where we know each others' strengths and weaknesses when it comes to blocking schemes," he said. "We kind of know where each other - where each other's going to be at when coaches need us for drills. We know what positions we want to take. We know which group is going to be the core of the team and doing to do our best to lead the team to victory."
Those are comforting words for senior quarterback Jarett Sullivan, who returns as the starter but is in a battle with junior Ryan Wisniewski for the starting job long-term.
"I don't really have to worry about a lot of linemen coming in my face, I can just do anything."
Smith said the Spartans bring back 14 seniors, five more than last season. Blaha said he has more than 40 freshmen signed up to play to date.
Sparta opens the 2015 season against Black River Falls on Friday, August 21.
Watch our special on area high school football teams with "Countdown To Kickoff", Thursday August 20, at 6:30 p.m. on WXOW.