Considering Northwest coach Weston Schartz's successful career, there's probably few who felt sorry for him when the Grizzlies opened the football season 1-4.
Schartz is second in the City League in wins (143) during his career at West (1987-2001) and Northwest (2002-10), so four early losses were difficult.
"It is a humbling experience," said Schartz, whose team is 5-4 and plays host to Junction City (7-2) at 7 tonight in the first round of the Class 6A playoffs. "After all the success that you've had as a coach, everybody needs to go back and go 1-4 once in a while.
"You start appreciating the little things a lot more. You appreciate the relationships with the kids better. You appreciate your coaches more. You appreciate your administration more."
It wasn't shocking that Northwest started slowly.
The Grizzlies opened the season with losses to Kapaun Mount Carmel (8-1) and Dodge City (9-0). After getting a win over East, Northwest lost to Carroll (7-2) and Heights (9-0). All four teams are in the playoffs, and Heights, Dodge City and Carroll finished the regular season ranked in the top 10.
"We handled it pretty well, though," linebacker Jacob Davis said. "Coach always said pay day is coming and to keep working hard. We never fought (with each other). We had each other's backs."
Northwest won its final four games and won Class 6A-District 7 to advance to the playoffs for the ninth straight season. But those four wins were against teams with a combined record of 6-30.
The Grizzlies are young, starting mainly juniors and sophomores. And for the first time in years, Schartz doesn't have one of the area's best running backs.
The past three seasons, Northwest had Demarcus Robinson, now at Kansas State, to carry the offensive load. In three seasons he racked up 4,421 rushing yards and had two seasons in which he finished with the City League's fifth- and seventh-best regular-season rushing totals.
Before Robinson was Jeran Trotter and Odell Bell. During their time, those running backs were critical to creating an identity for Northwest.
"We had no identity offensively early," Schartz said of this season. "Our quarterback (Jordan Wiedemann) was out. We had a new kid (Cedric Jay) at quarterback. We had no established running backs. We're a tailback team."
Schartz moved players around, trying out a player here or there, offense or defense, just to see where the best fit was.
While Wiedemann returned from an injury, injuries in the backfield slowed Northwest's progress. Cory Cuda suffered a thigh injury, brothers AJ and TJ Thurman have ankle injuries. Freshman Deron Thompson has started the last three games at tailback.
"He's a very talented freshman," Schartz said, "and he'll be a very, very good back. But who wants to play a freshman? He's done a good job. He's extremely fast, he's coachable, he's tough. He's got all the attributes that (Robinson) had."
Northwest has shown improvement defensively. After giving up 151 points in the first five games, the Grizzlies have allowed 22 since.
Davis and Bennett Moore, who Schartz calls throwback linebackers, are the defensive leaders and have combined for nearly 200 tackles.
While the season hasn't been easy, Schartz says he's enjoying this team.
"Great kids," he said. "If you really, truly believe in what we're in this for, to change lives and to make better kids, then I would say we've had a great, great season."