2013 KHQA Barnstorm Tour: HIGHLAND COUGARS

"The question now is how many games are we going to win, not if we're going to win a game or not. That's really big, it helps the players a lot, too"

"It also creates an expectation around these kids, and that's something we haven't experienced and we're learning to deal with,"

There is indeed truth to the old adage: it's not how you start, it's how you finish. Look no further than the Highland Cougars a year ago. 0-5 out of the gate, 4-2 the rest of the way, including a playoff win. In case you were wondering, momentum can carry on through an entire off-season.

"It added a lot of excitement towards the end of the year to go in and get our first playoff win. The school got more into it, and coming back this year there's a lot more excitement around, the guys are fired up and ready to go,"

"I think its really helping us get pumped up. We had more kids than ever go out for football this year, and its really keeping us fired up and ready for this next season,"

There is promise in what Kenny Grubb's team returns. Make no mistake, two of the Clarence Cannon's top tier players have left the team, but that might just open up more doors than expected.

"We're going to be more balanced than we ever have been. We don't have Chris Sparks or Derick Smith anymore, so we have to become more balanced. Losing a couple thousand yards between those two guys hurts us, but it does create balance so defenses don't just focus on one guy,"

The consensus is that the senior-laden defense will be much more sturdy this time around. Offensively, senior Wes Cramsey will be the go-to in Highland's power run game. And you're sure to see shades of the aforementioned Chris Sparks in his attack.

"He really took me under his wing and taught me a lot of things like how to run hard. I think its really helping me to grow as a player,"

The Cougars optimism is hard to miss. So is their belief that they can cause quite a stir in the conference outlook. This season, you'll see a group ready to take the next step. Its up the Cougars just how big that step will be.

"Our next step is to beat a team that we definitely aren't expected to beat,"

"That's tough because we get a lot of those big games in the first 5 weeks of the season. So we've really got to win one of those games to set us up for the end of the season,"

"I think last year we were more of the underdog trying to come back, and now, we're not necessarily a powerhouse but we're working up to the role of being a bigger name and doing what we can to become a big part of the conference,"