The old saying tells us that things get better with age.

Wine? Maybe.

Athletic skills? Well, that depends upon how much aging is involved.

Football practices? Apparently so.

Or at least that's the story from the Augustana football camp this fall.

Fifth-year Viking boss Steve Bell says the senior leadership is something that has stood out as his team prepares for Saturday's 1 p.m. season opener at home against Coe at the Knowlton Athletic Complex.

“The one thing that keeps standing out is that we've got real good leadership,” said Bell of what he calls his best run-up to a Viking season. “We've got some kids who are not afraid to be leaders when needed.

“That, to me, bodes well because there are going to be hills and valleys in a lot of games and nobody wants that, but these guys should be able to handle those and get back to normal. Vice-versa, when things do go well, those guys don't get discombobulated.”

Bell pointed to this senior class as being a special group. He says that three-year lettermen, captains and returning defensive starters Luke Sawicki and Quad-Cities prep standouts Daniel Tjaden and Xavier Holley have been the heart of this group as “distinct leaders.”

“These are kids that care about each other,” Bell said. “Because they know each other so well, they're not afraid to say things that need to be said. Fortunately, we haven't had to do that. ”

On paper, the Vikings have their best chance this fall for the first winning season in Bell's tenure. The Vikings return 18 starters led by a core group of 26 seniors who have endured a 1-9 season in their tenure and collectively gone 8-22 in their careers.

They know that now is when those fortunes need to turn.

“It's big time to send the program in the right direction,” said Holley, a former Bettendorf prep, of the program getting over that .500 record hump, contending for a CCIW title and continue changing the culture. “I know when we came in as freshmen, it wasn't where we wanted it to be. Now that it's our turn to change it around, I feel like we have the guys to make that happen.”

To a man, there is plenty of confidence in the locker room that the program is moving toward a better place in terms of respect and competitiveness. They are hoping that those also shows in terms of a winning record.

The players feel as if that can happen this season and the senior group is setting that tone.

“There's been a lot more maturity in this camp than we've seen in other camps before,” fifth-year senior quarterback Zach Fuller said. “In this camp there's been more of a bond between the older guys and the younger guys on this team compared to other teams. Sometimes teams will have just the captains as the leaders, but we have the whole senior class to rely on because they've been through a lot of stuff here.”

Bell also sees the senior class creating a winning atmosphere that is permeating down through the younger players, and he says “the juniors get it.” There's a championship attitude that is being created that they hope results in more victories this year than the seniors have enjoyed in their entire careers.

Bell hopes to see that happen.

So do the players.

“I just want Augustana football to stay at the top,” Holley said.

That chase for newfound success, they hope, is well underway.

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