After back-to-back 1-9 seasons, Chesapeake football coach Tom Kraning has noticed a change in his team that even can be seen in the way his players wear their uniforms.
"I've never had a football team take pride in so many things, even putting on uniforms," said Kraning, who remembers past seasons when players would mistake their knee pads for their hip pads.
"Last year I knew I was in trouble and everybody knew I was in trouble. In the past we were taking each game one at a time and dodging enough bullets so we could be there in the end.
"But this year's team is different."
Only 10 players are returning from last year's squad and the majority of them have suffered through two losing seasons.
"This year it's a whole new team," halfback Brandon Steinheim said. "Everybody comes together. It's like they want to win and they're sick of losing."
Kraning said, "The attitude is extremely positive and the enthusiasm is unbelieveable. We're getting more and more kids who are ready to pay the price.
"We're getting intelligent, decent, hard-working kids who want to be football players."
Kraning also feels that work ethic will carry over into close-game situations.
"Last year we lost a game in overtime and we were leading 14-0 with five minutes left in another game and lost 21-14," Kraning said. "Those close losses we can turn around this year."
Steinheim rushed 823 yards for the Cougars last season. He already has received letters from Division I football programs Tennessee, Syracuse, West Virginia and North Carolina. He had an operation in the off-season last year to mend a broken collarbone.
"Last year he was our only threat to the other teams," Kraning said of the 5-foot-10, 180-pound senior. "We're looking to get him outside as a receiver a little more. He's just real tough in the open field."
But the Cougars also might have another threat to their $l opponents in newcomer David Jennings, a 6-0, 185-pound junior fullback and defensive end.
"I'm real high on David Jennings," Kraning said. "He's given us a lot of leadership this past week."
Kraning said the Cougars had a successful three-way scrimmage against Arundel, Atholton and Potomac in which Steinheim ran for four touchdowns in three games. Jennings caught two touchdown passes as well.
"We put the ball in the end zone seven times and I felt real good about the execution," Kraning said.
One small setback the Cougars suffered in the scrimmages is the temporary loss of veteran Howard Parker, a split end and safety who dislocated his shoulder.
"He's got a lot of speed and he should be back by the first game," Kraning said.
Steinheim said, "I want for the team to at least win four or five games. I just want to have a winning season."