Andale coach Gary O’Hair had his own learning moment in the midst of the Indians’ season-opening five-game losing streak in 2011.
Charged with the responsibility of getting traditionally successful players through their first stretch of agony, O’Hair had no prior experiences at Andale on which to rely.
O’Hair has averaged 10 wins per season in a decade as Andale’s coach, so when Andale went into October without a win, he had to improvise.
Ultimately, O’Hair fell back on his winning pedigree, trusting that the players would buy what he was selling since his messages had worked so well in the past. Andale responded by winning five in a row before falling to eventual Class 4A champion Rose Hill in the second round of the playoffs.
"I know that if you get down on kids, then they get down on you and then you get down on each other," O’Hair said. "You have to stay committed to each other and believe in each other. Luckily, the kids continued to believe in us and we got it turned around."
Andale was upset in the opener by Wellington, but in the following weeks it became less of an upset. The Indians fell to Mulvane, Rose Hill and Collegiate by an average of 34 points before a five-point loss to Clearwater.
The difficult early schedule may not have taken Andale by surprise, but since it was atypical for the Indians, they didn’t change their usual philosophy.
O’Hair often uses the first few games to gauge the talent level of his players and to decide which ones will get the bulk of the playing time in the second half. That can aid depth, but it can also hamper a team against superior opponents who already have their depth charts organized.
Since Andale opens this season with three teams it lost to in 2011, O’Hair is making sure he knows who belongs on the field for the first game.
"We know we’re going to have to be playing our best," O’Hair said. "We realize we have to be ready, we have to be playing our best Week 1 and not wait until district to play our best. We’ve got to make sure we’re ready right off the bat."
Andale may appear more cohesive at the start, but the tangible differences won’t be as extreme. The Indians will rely on what made them successful over the past 10 years under O’Hair, namely its running game and its speed on defense.
Those were the aspects the Indians used to even its record last year, reaching .500 with a 42-7 win over Clearwater in the first round of the playoffs. Running back Jake May and quarterback Jared Smarsh are effective runners who can help Andale control the clock and Levi Eck, Jake Brand and Tyler Bugner are playmaking defenders.
This is the first season in the last several in which questions surround Andale. The 4A champions in 2006 and 2007 and a perennial playoff team, the Indians are almost always projected for at least eight or nine wins.
Even the Indians themselves aren’t quite sure what to expect, but they expect a more dedicated level of preparation will allow them to avoid a repeat of the start of 2011.
"We’ve been through two days of two-a-days, and I couldn’t be happier with their attitude," O’Hair said shortly after the start of practice. "Obviously you can’t tell anything until you put pads on, then you can’t tell anything until you put pads on against another team, but we feel real good about things right now."