TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - Hayden head coach Bill Arnold is fully aware of it.
"The last couple of years, it just felt like we ended the season not playing our best football," Arnold said.
That's something the Wildcats are looking to change in 2019, particularly after Marysville eliminated them in the playoffs last year in the regional round of the 3A playoffs. The loss is helping serve as motivation for a squad that went 7-3 last season.
"I think there's been a desire to get back into the playoffs and obviously make a much deeper run than we did a year ago," Arnold said.
"Not making it as far as we wanted to last year, it made us ready and eager to work out this summer and ready for the season," senior offensive/defensive lineman Andrew Schmidtlein said. "It definitely motivated us to push ourselves a little harder this summer."
It's a group that was mostly around to experience the disappointment. Hayden returns 14 starters, with nine from a defense that recorded three shutouts and held opponents to single-digit scoring outputs in four other games.
"Obviously, with that many kids coming back on defense, our expectations are pretty high," Arnold said. "You've got it anchored up front with Andrew Schmidtlein, who's been playing varsity football now for four years. I'm expecting big things out of him, just not in his play, but in his leadership."
"We want to do everything we did last year and a little bit better," Schmidtlein said of his defense. "Just stay locked down and try to prevent as many points as we can."
On offense, the Wildcats are watching running back Desmond Purnell. He's a junior whose shiftiness and agility impresses his teammates, along with the improvements he's made in the weight room.
"What I focused on this summer was to get my squat up and then try to get leaner, faster because I lost a lot of weight over the summer," Purnell said. "And then I also got my bench up with the squat."
"I expect him to tear it up this year," Schmidtlein said.