TIPTON, Iowa — Over the past seven years, Tipton's football program has enjoyed a run of consistency.
Since 2011, the Tigers have gone 35-31 and have made the playoffs three times. Though they missed the postseason last season, they still finished 6-3.
For some programs, that would be perfectly fine, but for first-year head coach Mark Langenfeld, it's not nearly good enough.
"Culture is king. That's something I learned from where I came from," Langenfeld said. "These kids need to fix their attitude, they need to give 100 percent effort all the time, and they need to be disciplined."
Langenfeld knows what it takes to win, the starting center on Harlan's last state-championship team in 2009. He knows the difference between a championship-caliber program and one that, like Tipton, is a step or two away from reaching that level.
"It's keeping a positive attitude. It's knowing that no matter what, you can overcome anything. It's believing in yourself and your teammates. It's playing as a team and doing your job," Langenfeld said. "It's a mindset, that's all it is. Back at Harlan, if (head coach Curt Bladt) or any of the other coaches had told us to run off the side of a cliff, we would have done it without thinking. We would have done it knowing there was a net down there to catch us.
"You do what's asked and you do it to the best of your ability at all times."
With Langenfeld the third coach in the last four seasons for the Tigers, the players are more than ready for the attitude change. It helps they're familiar with their new coach, who served as an assistant for Tipton the prior three seasons.
"I think the community has been waiting. We haven't had the greatest of pasts, football-wise, and I think the community is just waiting and they want a successful team to get behind, and I think we can give them that," senior tight end/defensive end Frank Bierman said. "(Langenfeld) just preaches discipline and accountability. We've had that in the past but not near to this level. ... Last year we had a lot of personalities in a lot of different areas on the group, and this year, we're all just one team working for one goal."
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Tipton's three losses last year came by an average of over 48 points, including a 68-8 loss to Mount Vernon that quickly snowballed out of control. Games like that are what Langenfeld and the Tigers are hoping to eliminate.
"I won't say we were soft last year, but when we got down, there wasn't a lot of fight," senior utility/linebacker Connor Hermiston said. "This year, I think coach definitely lit a fire under us. He reminds us about what happened last year and something like that's not going to happen again. We won't fold if we're ever in that spot again, we're going to fight back."
From a talent standpoint, Tipton appears ready to break through. The Tigers return seven offensive and five defensive starters from last year's team, including Hermiston and Bierman. Hermiston rushed for 501 yards and six touchdowns last year while Bierman is receiving recruiting interest from both Iowa and South Dakota, though he doesn't yet have an offer after catching 13 passes for 247 yards and four touchdowns and recording 28 tackles and two sacks last season.
Also back is senior Austin Lenz, who was named a second team all-state defensive back by the Iowa Print Sports Writers Association after recording four interceptions.
"I'm looking for more this year. Staying in good position all the time, not being lazy, fixing that and giving 100 percent all the time on the field," Lenz said. "In my opinion, we're really strong on defense this year. We have guys who are familiar with varsity already so I think we're going to be really good."
With so many skilled players returning, the Tigers feel their biggest strength offensively can be their versatility. Most players will be asked to do several different things in Tipton's spinner back single wing offense.
That versatility might mean less standout individual seasons, but could lead to a bevy of team success.
That's what the Tigers are focused on.
"We want to be known as the team that gets Tipton over the hump," Hermiston said. "We want to be that team that puts Tipton on the map."