FORT MILL — Yes, it looks familiar.
High hopes, dashed quickly.
But everyone involved with the Nation Ford football program insists this year is different, that this year will be the year it breaks the mold and does something the second half of the season. New coach Michael Allen gets animated when talking about the "all in" philosophy he's trying to instill, and the changes he's seeing.
"To be honest, there's a couple of big differences around here," Allen said. "Number one, our senior leadership is stronger than it's ever been. There's also a huge difference in toughness around here, and I mean physical toughness, mental toughness and emotional toughness.
"We're in a lot better position to deal with adversity than we've been in the past."
Stepping away from it, Allen was even able to gain some positives from last week's 32-14 loss to Rock Hill, which dropped the Falcons to 2-1 on the season. And while this week's opponent doesn't inspire much confidence -- Lewisville is 0-3, having been outscored 134-13 -- Allen said "we're preparing like we're playing the Dallas Cowboys."
They have to, because history has shown this is the time of year when the skid begins. Nation Ford has ended the last two seasons with six-game losing streaks, and a seven-gamer the year before that. The Falcons haven't won a region game yet -- and it won't be easy with three Region 4 opponents in the top 10 of this week's Class AAA poll -- which leaves Allen uneasy.
But you'd never know it was frustrating to watch them work, as there's an energy there now that hasn't been apparent in the past.
"One of the things that's helped us is our past," Allen said. "The changes we've made are pushing us forward, from the way we do things, to our attitudes and our expectations from day-to-day.
"We draw incentive from that. I think we're very close. To be honest, the kids are tired of that stigma, and it shows in how hard they work."
That's great, but one of the most significant departures over the past at the county's newest school is the fact they've got fewer players.
The Falcons have never sent a player to a Division I college on scholarship, but they're about to. Wide receiver Jay Jay McCullough had offers from several SEC and ACC schools before verbally committing to Clemson, while left tackle J.T. Boyd has offers from East Carolina, Furman and Coastal Carolina, and serious interest from schools higher up the food chain. Defensive end Abri Tate's another rising prospect, the kind the school hasn't had around much.
Boyd, who's been with the varsity team since his freshman year, thinks there's a rising-tide-lifts-all-boats effect.
"I think it helps everybody," Boyd said. "If the other guys on the team work with us every day, and feel like they can compete with us, then they'll feel like they can compete with other talented teams too.
"Everybody's dream is to play at a bigger level, and I think that pushes everyone around here to try to do better."
Allen said that growing base of recognized talent helps the younger players, creating goals.
"It does, it motivates kids," Allen said. "Having that kind of player coming through our program is critical to establishing the kind of tradition we're trying to create.
"And we are going to create it, we've just got to go through the process."
Allen also likes the fact that he's one of seven members of the coaching staff who are on site during the school day, teaching at Nation Ford. In the past, as few as two coaches were on the teaching staff, and Allen believes that kept them from building the same bond.
Not only are coaches there keeping an eye on players, but they're also teaching them math, history, and physical education , which makes them a more constant presence.
"That's major for us, because it creates an accountability," Allen said. "We're there for these kids, not only in their athletic and social lives, on the fields and in the halls, but in their academic lives, because our staff is all over the building."
Boyd also noted the more positive nature of the coaching staff. "There was a negative attitude around here in the past, there really was," Boyd said. "But this coaching staff has everyone positive, everyone believing.
"I think it makes all the difference in the world for us, because when somebody believes in you, you're going to work as hard you can for them, and I think that's what we're seeing here now."
Darin Gantt 803-326-4312