"I don't know how big the playoff win is in our kids coming back with optimism," eighth-year Spanish Springs coach Scott Hare said. "I think the bigger thing is the second-round loss to Reed. We had the lead in the second half. Our kids know we were in that game. That's much more motivation than the first-round win."
Hare thinks that heart-breaking loss has helped his returners keep their eye on the prize, a fresh start this fall, while working out all offseason.
"The offseason has gone really well," Hare said. "The kids are really focused. We've had a good offseason, good weight program and good conditioning program. We've had 150 offseason workouts and quite a few kids, if they were not playing another sport, made them all. We're all excited to get things going.
"A good offseason program allows you to focus on football when that time comes. If you have not done a good job, you're still trying to focus on getting kids in shape. Whenever you're running for the sake of running, you're taking away from football time. We're pretty focused on football at this point."
The Cougars' all-state quarterback candidate, Hunter Fralick, had similar sentiments.
"It took a while to recover from that (Reed playoff) game," Fralick said. "When it ended, that's really when this season started. It's been a long, hard offseason, but it's been productive."
The Cougars offense is expected to be plenty productive this fall. A big reason for that is Fralick's return. The senior signal caller has already given a verbal commitment to play his college football at Nevada and as Hare says, his presence and performance just make things easier.
"He makes everything seem better than it might be without him," Hare quipped. "When you're completing a pass, or throwing it constantly where it's always in the right spot at the right time, that makes coaching everything else around him a lot easier. He doesn't hold the ball too long so that makes his line look better. He puts the ball on receivers so they're not reaching out. If they drop it, it's on them. He just makes everything a little bit smoother than it would be this time of year."
Spanish Springs graduated a pair of all-league receivers -- Vance Lively and Ryder Lowry -- but both Hare and Fralick believe the 2013 receiving corps can be just as good. Seniors Shamir Geisinger, Gehrig Parks and Trever Listman headline that group.
"We're going to do the same things offensively. We're not going to miss a beat," Hare said. "I think our core group of receivers is going to be very solid and our running game is back. We did lose some offensive lineman, but I'm still excited about that group. It could be the best offensive line I've had in my 13 years of coaching."
Hare said the Cougars' defense, specifically its secondary, is the SSHS coaching staff's biggest area of concern going into the new year. The Cougars' coach said that's largely due to inexperience and not a lack of talent or athleticism.
"We're going to be a little younger on defense than last year," Hare said. "There will probably be a few more growing pains, but I do like the kids we have out there. It will probably take a few games to get their feet wet and get a feel for what we want them to do. We'll be very similar on defense. I don't see any reason to change a lot. There will be some subtle changes and those will be week to week. We'll see where we are by the time we get to league and then we'll have a pretty good idea of what we are on defense."
While Spanish Springs players and coaches are optimistic about their chances to compete with anybody in northern Nevada, there is reason to temper excitement. The first is the Cougars haven't beaten anyone in 2013. The second is everyone is optimistic in preseason camp. Hare remembered two years ago when he thought that Cougars team had a chance to be really good. It finished 3-8.
Still, Hare thinks there's no reason to compare the 2013 Cougars to the 2011 team that underachieved.
"I think this team is better prepared mentally than we were a couple years ago," Hare said. "I still think the team two years ago, if it performed to its physical standards, could've been pretty good. I've learned from that experience and we're a little more focused mentally about not hurting ourselves and not shooting ourselves in the foot off the field. We'll see.
"Every team is different. This team has to put football first. If it does, it could be a tough team to beat. But if other things are important to them outside the realm of what they should be doing, they'll end up being just another group of kids who played football. There won't be much to talk about. It comes down to how much they want to be successful in the long run."
The Cougars seem to understand that. Senior leader Garrett Nauman, who plays H-back and outside linebacker, admitted he and his teammates have regular chats about staying focused on the goal.
"We can be good if we play to our potential," Nauman said. "We believe we can be really good, among the best in northern Nevada. What's important is how we prepare. It's going to be tough, but if we work hard and prepare every week, we can do everything we want to do."
Spanish Springs begins its 2013 schedule with a non-league game at Bishop Manogue Friday. Kickoff is slated for 7 p.m. at the private Catholic school in south Reno.