The words were both spoken and written. Not many of them kind. Very few of those spewing the negativity were actually in the know.

Dan Hinds and his coaching staff at Desert Vista heard - maybe even read - a good portion of it.

"I learned a long time ago to not listen to any of that," Hinds said last week. "Just because some yahoo has an opinion doesn't mean much. They don't know what is going on and we didn't need that to filter into the program more than it already was."

The best defense couldn't keep all of it out. Not when some of it was happening right on the sideline during a brutal 2-8. By most accounts, there was a lack of leadership from the senior class in 2009 with an uneasy comfort-level with losing.

Many thought it reflected directly back on Hinds. Even though the team made the Class 5A Division I state championship game two years before and some local talent (Hamilton's Christian Westerman and Scottsdale Chaparral's Davonte Neal) decided to open enroll at other schools, there was sentiment that a change needed to be made.

Suffice it say that chirping has been quieted with the Thunder's season thus far.

"We made some changes in how we approach things," Hinds said. "We had to. We couldn't stand pat after losing so many games late. You have to evolve as a coach just as we expect the players to improve from year to year."

The schedule has been friendly, but it is the same one as last season, and it is about to get a whole lot tougher tonight when Chandler (5-2, 3-1) visits but the Thunder (5-2, 1-1) have accounted for themselves very well in the first seven games.

"We have been getting better every week," junior quarterback Hunter Rodriguez said. "The confidence level now to when we walk on the field doesn't even compare. It all started with the Hamilton game when we hung with them for three quarters.

"We could play with anyone."

Top-ranked Hamilton won 35-17 on Sept. 24, but Desert Vista closed within 21-14 in the third quarter. The Huskies talent, size and discipline wear down the Thunder.

But out of that came a renewed confidence. Desert Vista, which enters the week No. 7 in the power rankings, ended a two-game losing streak the following week and it enters the game against Chandler riding a three-game winning streak.

Rodriguez was on the sidelines for much of last season's struggles as a backup so he had time to just watch and soak it all in.

And learn.

"There was a lot stuff going on that I knew we couldn't have happen (in 2010) if we were going to be good," he said. "A lot of the (current) junior class talked about making sure we changed attitudes around here."

It's not all sunshine and party streamers in the program by any means. The return to form is far from complete, but the atmosphere is definitely more positive than last season.

"The defense gets along great, all three units are dependent on each other and we encourage each other," senior defensive lineman Spencer Schumacher said. "We trust each other and that goes for the whole team."

There are only a handful of seniors contributing with a talented junior class (Mike Arrendondo, Matt Smith, Rodriguez, etc.) gaining tons of valuable minutes. The junior varsity team, which entered the week 5-2, has some of the best young talent in years for the Thunder.

In other words, no matter how this season ends the future is bright regardless of what outside sentiment might believe.

"We always thought last season was just blip," Hinds said. "We did a lot of work to make sure it was. We'll see where it goes from here."

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