Football practices at Bel Air High School went a lot smoother last week than in the previous weeks of this season.
What a difference a win makes. Especially when a team hasn't won in a while. A long while.
"A world of difference," coach Gene Blizzard called it after the Bobcats' emotional 14-6 victory at Havre de Grace 10 days ago. "It took off a lot of pressure."
When Keir Thompson scored on runs of 1 yard and 27 yards, he helped Bel Air end a string of 19 consecutive losses dating to the middle of the 1990 season.
The Bobcats had only a few days to enjoy the triumph, because the heavy underdogs were stopped by unbeaten and No. 4-ranked C. Milton Wright, 21-6, Friday night.
Now, with that game over, Bel Air can focus on being competitive against its last three opponents -- Edgewood, Elkton and John Carroll.
"The one thing we are looking for is improvement each week," Blizzard said after a recent practice.
The former varsity assistant stepped up to head coach at the beginning of last season, and while the varsity went 0-10, the junior varsity program blossomed, going 10-0.
"From the start, we made the decision [for that season] not to bring people up to the varsity from the JV -- players who maybe were not ready. We played the 11th- and 12th-graders and left the 9-10s on the JV," he said.
"We did not expect that drastic a difference in the records, but we evaluated the players through the year and we determined it would not have made a big difference to bring up 10th-graders.
"Not many of last year's juniors got a lot of playing time, so we had only a small nucleus of seniors for this season. Most of our players are juniors who played JV last year. They had great seasons, but no varsity experience, and there is a big difference."
Blizzard's goals are modest.
"Last year, our varsity goal was to go a game at a time, get better each week, and it's the same now. Stop emphasizing wins and losses; concentrate on fundamentals. We have played two or three games where we had our chances, but inexperience hurt us," he said.
"We felt the pressure of the losing streak in the first game [a 39-12 loss to Kenwood], so we stressed other things, looking for positives. We were scoreless with Joppatowne at the half and lost, 12-0; we played Fallston tough, got more yardage, but blew some coverages.
"With three minutes to go against Aberdeen, we trailed, 18-12, drove inside the 10, then had a pass interception returned for a touchdown. We doubled them in offensive yardage, and the next week had more total offense than North Harford [21-0], even though we did not have a good game."
The top players on offense are senior quarterback Don Krtanjek and Thompson. Defensively, senior tackles Andy Glenn (6 feet 7, 300 pounds) and Matt Dupree (6-6, 310) monopolize the line, setting it up for linebackers Dan Durst, Dick Barwick, Brian Seccurro and Jason Krout.
Durst, 6-0, 200, is the lone senior among the four and the team's leading tackler.
Blizzard and his staff are getting the program organized the way they want to, and one sign that may well be the start of a promising future is that nearly 60 players are on this year's JV team, which has won six of its seven games.