Pewamo-Westphalia football coach Brad Weber and Lansing Catholic's Jim Ahern had experienced plenty of success long before the end of last season.
But this month marked the first time either had returned to the sideline after a trip to the MHSAA Finals.
Their teams faced off on opening night at Holt Junior High, the Cougars' home field. Gone were Lansing Catholic's all-state quarterback-receiver tandem that helped the Cougars finish Division 5 runner-up last fall, as well as the large group of standout seniors who guided the Pirates to the Division 7 Final.
But the coaches are back for more, and we caught up briefly with both after Lansing Catholic's 45-21 win. (Lansing Catholic fell to 1-1 this week with a loss at Saginaw Nouvel, while P-W improved to 1-1 with a win over Potterville.)
This has to be the most unfamiliar group you've had at Lansing Catholic?
Ahern: They're a good group from the standpoint that they have a lot of team chemistry. They're a close-knit group, and they've worked extremely hard in the offseason. I know every coach says that. But this, probably of all the groups I've had, has really worked hard. We were a little nervous. We had a lot of kids playing in spots where they hadn't been there, but they settled down a little bit.
Have the players approached things differently because of how you ended up last year?
Weber: A little bit. But it's still football, and they've been playing football since sixth grade. It shouldn't be too different.
Are you (as a coach) approaching some things differently?
Weber: Yes and no. We're still getting down to business. Practices are the same. We still have a lot of energy at practice. But you do. You're looking for a little bit of the senior leadership to step up because it was so good last year. These guys kinda took it for granted, and they rode on their coat tails, and it's time for them to step up and be leaders of this team. It's 2012 now.
Ahern: Not really. Every year I tell everyone the same thing. Our goal is to win the league. If we do that, good things will happen. That's our goal -- to win the conference. ... We're still running the same stuff pretty much. We haven't changed a whole lot.
Do you have to say things to certain guys who are replacing (all-staters), like 'Do you know what you're stepping into?'"
Ahern: You don't have to remind them about it. They know it. They don't need to hear it. I think that's why they work so hard in the offseason. The bar's set pretty high for them, so they want to continue that.