John Blake's football team at St. Anne's-Belfield has virtually every starter back from last year's playoff team, but the longtime coach of the Saints admits his excitement about the upcoming season occasionally waivers.
"It's not fun sometimes," Blake joked before a recent practice. "I still wake up and I'm thinking, in the middle of the night thinking, "Wow. Can we actually win all those games, that I'm sitting here thinking we should."
The Saints used a second-half surge to get into the VISAA Division II semifinals, where STAB lost 45-23 to Bishop Sullivan Catholic. But that late-season run has been on the players' minds for months.
"We had guys, or I was talking to guys about it during lacrosse season in the spring," senior quarterback Lee Parkhill said. "So everybody I know has been very excited about getting back out here and doing great things."
STAB actually began last season 0-4 -- extending a losing streak that dated back to the start of the 2012 season to 14 straight games -- before ending that skid with a 22-20 win at home against North Cross last October.
"High school athletics is all about confidence," Blake said. "Once they won one, it was easy from there."
"Once we got the monkey off our back, beating North Cross, we really knew what we could do," said senior linebacker Minor Smith. "That was our first game we really played well."
That North Cross victory was the first of STAB's five straight wins to end the regular season.
"Us learning how to play with one another was a big part of it," Parkhill explained. "Because it's getting used to how the guy next to you plays. There's so much of that."
Parkhill is back at quarterback for the Saints this season, after throwing for 1,622 yards and 16 touchdowns as a junior last year. STAB also returns the rest of last year's skill position players -- including rising junior wide receivers Jalen Harrison (554 receiving yards and five touchdowns) and Kareem Johnson (495 receiving yards and six touchdowns).
"We're a typical St. Anne's team," said Blake. "We're not huge, by any means. But we have a bunch of kids that can run. Even the linemen. They can get after it; they'll get in your way. Our kids have gotten bigger, they've gotten stronger. Just hopefully we can stay healthy, and keep moving forward."
Also back at STAB this season -- the high expectations that the program, which has won six state titles in Blake's tenure has head coach, is accustomed to.
"We kind of had a dip down in the last couple of years," said Parkhill. "And I think, especially during the second half of last season, we're on the up. And I think, I'm hoping that this year we peak, and we do very well."
"The kids expect it, which is what we've had here in the past. And that's where it all comes from," said Blake. "It's not from me, and it's not from anybody else. Their parents, or anybody else. If the kids expect to do it, then we should all expect to do it."