Hutchinson football coach Randy Dreiling once asked how another coach's team would be the following season. The coach said his team had benefited from a talented class, and with that class leaving, it was back to mediocrity.
Dreiling shook his head while recounting the conversation. To him that meant the other coach hadn't developed a program.
Dreiling has a program at Hutchinson. The Salthawks consistently lose around 30 seniors each season, yet they have won six straight state titles and are a Class 5A contender again.
Hutch has lost a bunch — 31 seniors and 17 starters graduated from Dreiling's best and most dominating team. Two were Eagle Top 11 selections and 10 are playing college football.
"I can easily see that people would see this as the year we get knocked off," senior Ben Heeney said. "But I think it was like that after (the Salthawks played for the 6A title in 2003) when they lost like 30-some seniors and only had a couple returning starters — like this year — and they came back and won state."
It's easy to look back in awe at Hutchinson's accomplishments under Dreiling since he was hired in 1997 — ending a 26-game losing streak, playing in seven straight title games and winning the last six.
The reason for that success is linked to Dreiling's desire to build a foundation.
"To get to that first state championship game, we didn't just show up that year," Dreiling said. "We'd lifted for years. We had established our offense and defense for years. It's virtually the same today as it was then. If you watch film from 1999 and today, it's the same offense and defense, with a few tweaks there."
There are few familiar names at Hutchinson this season, and only one returning offensive starter, Hunter Stucky at slot back.
"We did lose a lot of great players," Stucky said."... We have (sophomore Trevor) Turner at quarterback, and he's a really athletic kid, he's smart. He's young, but he's getting it done."
The offensive line is smaller and inexperienced, but they'll be OK. And the offense gains by having Heeney move from defense to fullback.
The defensive coaches weren't too happy when Dreiling plucked Heeney, who had 83 tackles and three interceptions last season, to play offense. Until Heeney, who Dreiling compares to Top 11 selection Josh Smith, ran for three touchdowns and more than 150 yards in a scrimmage.
"Then they said, 'You can keep him,' " Dreiling said. "(Heeney) had some great moves. He's definitely faster than Josh, and he's got the same quickness as Josh, same vision, and they're both very powerful, hard-to-bring down running backs."
When told of Dreiling's comparison, Heeney said, "That's a pretty high honor because Josh is the best running back that has come through Hutch High."
Smith had 1,933 rushing yards on 215 carries last season.
Hutchinson has a tough opener, playing host to Kansas City Rockhurst (1-0), one of Missouri's top teams.
"That's the best possible thing," Dreiling said of playing Rockhurst first. "The kids are fully aware of what's at stake here. As if there wasn't enough motivation just trying to keep our streak alive, you've got one of the best teams in Missouri, the Midwest, coming into town."