Norris Vaughan has coached 331 games, but the next one will be different than any other in his illustrious career.
When Mountain Pointe begins to warm up Aug. 23 on Fertitta Field in Nevada, the Pride will be the reigning Division I Arizona state champions.
Hoisting that trophy brings a confidence, places a target and raises expectations the following year. Winning a state title is never a detriment to a program, but it can be a hindrance in the early going if things aren’t handled well.
Vaughan is confident the coaches have nipped it in the bud — the returning Pride players begin practice on Monday — by helping the 2014 squad create a separate identity.
“I will be the same guy I’ve always been and it won’t have anything to do with how we play,” he said. “Is just like (the state title) didn’t happen. It’s a closed book, and we are starting a new chapter and these players will put their own stamp on it.
“We are going to work our butts off and if they don’t, it will be same as always — they won’t play. There won’t be any entitlement on this team.”
That’s pretty much a tone-setter for the next four weeks as Mountain Pointe prepares for the Sollenberger Classic where it faces Nevada big-school runner-up Reed out of Sparks.
“Our identity is going to be the same because of the coaching style,” said senior Colin Lambdin, a three-year starter at center. “We are going to be physical and fast, have the same play set and be disciplined. It’s Mountain Pointe football. This group will put our own flavor on it, but we will basically be the same type of team.”
The Pride will start out in shorts in the early going and put on helmets for a few days before full contact starts the following week.
Vaughan is a big believer in finding out about a player after the pads are on and the team is going live. Until then, there are too many unknowns. He figures a player’s ability isn’t fully exposed until there is some physicality involved.
“We are nowhere right now,” he said. “We are off in the wilderness wandering around somewhere. We’ve only seen some of these players in shorts. We know about the kids who started last year, but we don’t have any idea how the others will perform.
“There are so many questions in my mind right now. That’s just how I go about it. Other coaches might see it differently, but that’s how I see it.”
Vaughan, who is 232-97-2 as he enters his 30th year as a head coach, isn’t claiming he is without talent or that the Pride are going to struggle this season. He just wants to see some of that talent react when there is someone chasing them down or lined up across from them.
“I think we will be a good team,” he said. “I don’t think anybody will be as good as we were last year, but we have a lot of talent. We got a good chance to get to the semifinals. I think we are that good; however, we have to come together.
“There are so many question marks in my mind. Do I think they will rise to the occasion? I really do, but you don’t really know until it happens.”
That’s where this four-week journey comes into play.
The offense and defensive packages are in place for the most part. The returning players are settling into their roles and the younger players will get a chance to fill in for the 14 starting positions now open due to graduation.
There will be depth at running back (Brandyn Leonard, Paul Lucas, Tyrek Cross, Tyree Shivers), the offensive line will be a strength (Nick Carman, Clayton Dry, Lambdin) and the defensive front seven (Bruce Hester, Austin Pogue, Keondre Churchwell, Austin Cronen) will have good experience returning.
By all accounts, quarterback Garvin Alston showed he is ready to step in during 7-on-7 play, so the offense should be in good hands, and John Abercrombie could be one of the best in the state as the team’s placekicker.
The questions that need to be answered mostly come from wide receiver and defensive backfield, where there will be new starters across the board.
The talent is there, but as of now, the experience isn’t.
“We feel good about the replacements, but again, we just don’t know how they will perform,” Vaughan said. “They’ve played some, but not when it counted most.”
Starting Monday, a whole new set players will find out what it means to be counted on for the Pride.
“We are the state champs until someone starts playing games, and then it’s over,” Vaughan said. “They can’t live off that. They have to earn their own way.”
• Contact writer: (480) 898-7915 or JSkoda@ahwatukee.com. Follow him on Twitter @JSkodaAFN.