Darwin Seiler had little recollection of the agony which preceded his arrival as Fairfield High's varsity football coach, but he could sense it.
"I didn't know how big that losing streak was for everybody," the former head coach at Westminster, Md., and Waynesboro said. "I hadn't been here for it, but you sense the kids had ownership of it and it was a big weight on them."
That weight was lifted in the 2012 season's penultimate game, when the Green Knights overcame the loss of their starting quarterback and defeated Hanover, 27-21.
"It was almost a surreal experience for me," Seiler said. "When you coach as long as I have, certain victories really stand out for you. This was just as good as any of them, if not better. That's because of how much it meant to those kids."
The game was clearly the highlight for a Fairfield team, which went 1-9, that is determined to use that victory as a springboard to better times. In fact, Seiler is counting on it.
"This is a commitment and we, as a coaching staff, told the kids this is a work in progress. We're not done by any stretch of the imagination," Seiler said.
If the Green Knights' fortunes improve, they undoubtedly will look back to 2012, when Seiler brought a new attitude and system to the YAIAA Division III program.
"In all honesty, we learned how to practice. We learned how to play full football games and, in all honesty, we learned how good it feels to win a football game," he said.
Yet that last point didn't come easily.
Fairfield suffered a bitter defeat, 19-14, to Clear Spring, Md., in its lone non-league game to maintain the skid. Seiler admitted it also gave the program a false sense.
"Clear Spring was so close that we thought we were where we needed to be," he said, "And we weren't."
The reality of YAIAA Division III quickly hit the Knights hard. Burdened by a shaky defense for years, the same problem -- lopsided losses -- resurfaced, and Seiler said it took weeks to find answers.
"It took us a while as coaches to settle into what defense suited the personality of the team," he said. "We went with an old-school system, a 50 front and two linebackers, and we moved a lot on defense."
It is a system which found the needed stops against Hanover's high-octane passing attack in the 10th week and which Seiler plans to adjust further by next August.
The staff will teach it to a maturing group. Noting Fairfield started only two seniors, he is anxious to return next fall with a larger team that knows him and what he expects.
What Fairfield will not have in 2013 is Tommy Bollinger, who will graduate as the first 1,000-yard season rusher in program history. Yet Seiler said the senior added so much more.
"He's a better person than he is a football player," Seiler, who said Bollinger has received some interest from college coaches, said. "He was the team leader in every definition of that term."
Bollinger, who had prior experience in the position, also shared some of the quarterback duties with Mike Quealy in the win over Hanover.
Now Quealy will join a quarterback competition next fall that includes Dalton Carbaugh, who was lost to injury on the second snap of the past season. That thrust another returning player, Mason Flickinger, into the role.
Seiler noted it is only an example of the growing football program at Fairfield.
"We're going to have competition for positions, and that adds depth, and that just makes you better," Seiler said.
That prospect produced an energized coach who is anxious to continue the work.
"Unlike some years, I didn't want it to end," he said of the 2012 campaign. "We would have still gone to practice on Monday (after the last game)."
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