The dream season in now a memory.

Everyone involved with the Mountain Pointe football program swears this is a new season and last year’s state title was just that — last year.

The transition started early in the offseason program and has continued during training camp when it was clear the 14 departed starters were nowhere to be seen on Lovett Field.

So where does it leave the Pride entering 2014?

“We have a target on our back, but it is really hard to tell how good we can be until we play a game,” said senior running back Paul Lucas, a key member of the 2013 Division I state title team. “We will wait until the end of the season to judge how good we are.”

Some believe Mountain Pointe is the Division I favorite and the talent is there to be the first program other than Hamilton to make three straight Division I title games since Mesa Mountain View in 1986-88, but there have been plenty of talented rosters that were unable fulfill its promise because they never became a team.

That doesn’t seem to be the case here as there looks to be a connection between players rather than a collection of athletes in pads.

“They play really well for each other,” Pride coach Norris Vaughan said. “They care about the team and they care about the end result. They play really hard and they want to win.

“They know in order to compete with the Chandlers, Hamiltons, Brophys and Desert Ridges we have to play together as a unit.”

It’s the trademark of a Vaughan-led team. He does a great job of building winning teams by working hard, being physical and creating a level of accountability that puts a premium on a team-first approach.

“I just want to play my part,” said running back Tyrek Cross, who is one of several newcomers in the program. “I want all of us to be good. I am not worried about me standing out. I just want to win the last game.

“(Team-first approach) forms a wall that no one can climb. It says a lot about people’s character and we are ready to be that type of team.”

The offense has a solid foundation with three returning offensive lineman — center Colin Lambdin, tackle Nick Carman and guard Clayton Dry — and two running backs in Brandyn Leonard and Lucas, who combined for 23 touchdowns and 1,634 yards last year.

The new starters, including quarterback Garvin Alston, slot receiver Tyree Shivers, lineman De’Shaun Felder, have good training camps to indicate there won’t be much of a drop off from last year when Mountain Pointe scored a school record 673 points.

Defensively there are more holes to fill but defensive end Bruce Hester and linebackers Austin Cronen and Keondre Churchwell bring back the experience and intensity to make sure new full-time starters like defensive end Austin Pogue, defensive back Dalton Thorpe and others try to match last year’s standard of physicality and speed to the ball.

“The defense is going to be really strong,” Hester said. “We know we are going to be a family and have each other’s back.”

The schedule, highlighted by match ups against Chandler (Sept. 19), Hamilton (Sept. 26) and Desert Vista (Oct. 2) is the same as last year other than Reed (Sparks, Nev.) swapping out for Bishop Gorman in the Sollenberger Classic on Saturday,

The Pride open the season in Las Vegas again, and don’t be surprised if Mountain Pointe returns from Sin City in position to hit the jackpot again.

• Contact writer: (480) 898-7915 or Follow him on Twitter @JSkodaAFN.

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