In its first 35 years of football, Tates Creek had only five losing seasons and always managed at least three victories. The Commodores were the city's winningest program in the 1970s, '80s and '90s.
Tates Creek's fortunes have taken a turn downward in recent years, though. The Commodores have won only two games three of the past four years.
"We're tired of going 2-9 the last two seasons," said senior defensive back Damon Boggs. "We're going to change things this year."
Mike Harmon, an All-City lineman at Tates Creek in the late 1980s, is intent on getting the Commodores' ship pointed in the right direction in his second season as coach.
"It takes time to get to where the kids expect to beat anybody they play," said Harmon, who successfully rebuilt Lafayette's program before returning to lead his alma mater. "We're still growing, mentally and physically."
But Harmon says the necessary seeds were planted when he installed his new system last fall.
"Last year's learning curve was slower than I expected," he said. "If you watched us get off the bus last year, we probably looked more impressive than we will this year, but I think we're a much better team right now.
"We're executing and understanding better already."
Senior linebacker Jonathon Meadors agreed.
"In our second year with coach, everyone is a lot smarter about his system," he said, "so we're moving at a faster pace, we're more focused, and we're getting more done in practice."
Harmon said he likes the talent on his roster: "We've got a ton of athletes."
Two of them — Martrell Berry and Dee Christopher — are fighting for the quarterback spot.
Berry took some snaps as a freshman last season. Christopher was on track to start as a sophomore, but he broke his leg playing summer basketball and missed the entire football season.
"They're similar in what they bring," Harmon said. "Dee moves around more, bides his time in the pocket, while Martrell stands in there and lets anybody hit him.
"But both of them throw the ball well and can run."
Jontez Jones returns at running back after rushing for 345 yards while being nagged by injury last year.
Tyler Love, a bullish 230 pounds, got a few dozen carries last season. Meadors, Brandon Shrout, Deontae Brank and William Hardin will get some touches, too.
Under Harmon, traditionally conservative Tates Creek has embraced the passing game.
This receiving corps is deep, and it could be one of the team's strengths. LaRobert Bett, Jonathan Diliberto, Cam Ruddell, Jacob Kadel, Jamison Hardin, Darnell Dennis, Will Sweet and Anthony Bell are among the pass catchers.
The offensive line, all but wiped out by graduation, is the question mark.
Dodd Kinder is one of the few veterans up front. Alex Bradley has some experience.
Dan Arthur, who started on defense last year, will help fill the offensive line, along with Stuart DuBois and Tadarius Jemison.
In its glory days, Tates Creek's calling card was its hard-nosed defense. Harmon is trying to instill that attitude to complement his players' speed and athleticism.
Meadors will be an enforcer at linebacker. Arthur has experience at nose guard. Much will also be expected from Boggs, Kadel, Shrout, Diliberto, Bett and promising sophomore Kalin Poe.
In hopes of rekindling the program's tradition, Harmon has painted the locker room and weight room. He also ordered new uniforms, with black jerseys.
"I'm not sure Coach Walton would approve," Harmon said with a laugh, referring to Roy Walton, the legendary coach who built Tates Creek's no-frills program into a powerhouse.
But it's a safe bet that Walton wouldn't care if the Commodores played in pajamas, as long as they won like they did in the good ol' days.