There's a fine line between arrogance and cockiness. Confidence can breed complacency. Desire can succumb to expectations that lead to a catacomb of missed opportunities. A season can unravel in the difference between resolve, determination and grit versus just showing up and settling for an "I tried" shrug and a "pass the Gatorade."
It's that difference Batavia Blue Devils Head Coach Brennan Briggs must negotiate as he heads into the 2015 season leading a team that a year ago, by all accounts, shouldn't have won a sectional title but did, and now is stocked with talented, seasoned seniors who are talking about a repeat on the first day of practice.
"That's going to be biggest battle I'm going to be fighting this season is telling these guys the 2015 football team hasn't won a single game yet together," Briggs said. "Last year, yes, we won a championship, but we were fortunate. We had 24 kids. We stayed healthy. We had zero injuries. We caught quite a few breaks and we made some big plays when we needed to. Nothing is guaranteed. It's very, very difficult to win a back-to-back championship, so honestly I don't like that they're talking about championships or anything like that."
The Blue Devils start pre-season camp with 31 players, and 18 of them are seniors. Some of them are stars if not solid contributors. Greg Mruczek is back at QB. He'll be joined offensively by Trevor Sherwood, Malachi Chenault, Adonis Davis, Anthony Gallo, Dominick Mogavero and Noah Dobbertin.
The depth and versatility is noticeable to the players and they can't help but talk of a repeat.
"We're ready to step back up," Mogavero said. "I feel like the whole team is ready to step up its game."
"We're definitely after another championship," Gallo said. "I feel like we're all ready for it. I feel like that's everybody's goal. We want to win and we just want to get back where we were last year."
Briggs wants to see his players focus on getting better every day. Every day, they play against a faceless opponent on their own internal clock and only they know the score, but the outcome of those matches will determine what happens on Friday nights.
While Briggs wants to tap down the championship talk, he also gets that he's dealing with a group of confident kids, and it was confidence that carried this team from a tough opening loss in 2014 against Livonia through big wins to close out the season and bring Batavia its first sectional title in football since 1991.
Briggs calls it "swag," a characteristic the coach talked about as the wins began to pile up last season.
"I do appreciate that they do have a little bit of swag to them, I guess you could call it that, and it is good, because as we found out last year, we were in some tight games toward the end and that kind of pushed us though," Briggs said. "They had confidence that they could get the job done. I think with all of their off-season work and the commitment they've put into the program, and the buy-in, that does help with every single game, day-in-and-day-out, to know that we have what it takes to win a championship, but saying it and feeling it is a little bit different than going out and doing it."
At the end of Monday's workout, Briggs had a straightforward message for his team: "You have a target on your backs."
If the 2014 team was one that came into the season just hunting for a few extra wins, it's now the team to beat for every local gridiron warrior in helmets and pads.
"Nobody is going to give you anything - nobody," Briggs said. "Nobody is going to say, 'Ah, we're playing Batavia, we're going to back down.' Everybody who plays us is going to want to beat us because it might make their season. That might be it. On their calendars, there might be a star, 'We've got a shot to prove something. We've got a shot to beat Batavia. They think they're on top right now. We're going to go out and show everybody else that we're better than them.' "
But the players do think they're better, maybe not yet better than University Prep, better than Wilson, better than Penn Yan and better than Geneva, but they believe they're better than last year, and that's the team that marched through that championship season with a lot of swag.
"Really, I expect to win another championship," Wilson said.
His job, as he sees it, is to help keep his teammates focused on that goal and fired up for every minute of every practice, because that's what wins games.
"The seniors want to make it happen again, so there's a lot of pressure to do it again," Davis said.
There's peer pressure, then there are community expectations, something Mruczek acknowledges.
"This community has a lot of expectations," Mruczek said. "With me being the senior quarter people think I need to step up as a leader and I've been trying to do that more; lead this team in the right direction to win another championship. My goal is to put in another solid season, do my 1/11th on the offensive side of the ball and lead this team to another championship."
Briggs thinks Mruczek is ready for the challenge. He isn't a player, the coach said, who worries about his own stats. He gets ready for each game, each play, and knows what his role his.
"He knows how to keep a level head on his shoulders," Briggs said. "I've never questioned his competitive edge or how hard he works, so I'm not too worried about anything like that. He knows what his job is -- go out there and manage the game and be a leader, and hopefully make some big plays when he needs to."
If all eyes are on him as the senior QB, Mruczek is fine with that role, he said.
"I like the pressure," Mruczek said. "I'm confident in this team. We've got a lot of guys with a lot of confidence. I don't really feel any pressure right now. I'm out here having fun my senior year."