Going into the final month of the regular season last fall, Davenport North's football program was the feel-good story in the Quad-Cities.
The Wildcats were 5-1, the best start in school history, and in position to contend for a district title and qualify for the postseason.
North suffered a case of the October Blues with three straight defeats and was on the outside of the 16-team playoffs in Class 4A.
"It was real disappointing not to get there," quarterback Jack West said. "It has been our biggest driving force this offseason."
North and the other schools across the Q-C area held their first official practices of the season Monday. Because of weather, some schools were forced indoors. Others beat the rain with early morning workouts.
The opening week of the season is Aug. 30-31. Instead of a Thursday night contest in the first week, Davenport Assumption and Alleman will meet in a rare Saturday night tilt at Brady Street Stadium.
"You can feel the energy and excitement of the season," West said. "We just had a team meeting and everybody was anxious to get out here and get going."
For Adam Hite, it was similar to the anticipation of Christmas morning.
Hite is in his first go-around as a varsity head coach, replacing Brandon Krusey who left North this spring to take the same position at Mason City.
"This is when some of the kids finally show up," Hite said. "They know it is for real. We've had our group of kids who have bought in and been here all summer, but you get some fresh, new faces that come in.
"It is an exciting time. It just felt like last week was the first week of summer workouts."
There is reason for optimism around North's program.
The Wildcats return their primary contributors at the skilled positions with West, running back Kade Schultz and receivers Priest Sheedy and Trevor Collins. They also have two sophomores who started as freshmen returning in defensive lineman Dominic Wiseman and linebacker Cade Sheedy.
North, which opens the season at Dubuque Hempstead in 17 days, has around 40 players on its varsity roster.
The word "finish" has been used repeatedly in summer workouts.
Finishing reps in the weight room. Finishing plays. Finishing quarters. Finishing games. Finishing the season.
When Hite took over the program, he polled his seniors and asked them what they felt was the biggest reason for the late-season dropoff.
Some of it stemmed from tougher competition. Iowa City West, Pleasant Valley and Muscatine were on the back end of the schedule.
There was another factor, too.
"They felt we were getting weaker as the season went on," Hite said.
So the Wildcats plan to implement an in-season workout program for the first time. Hite also wants to limit practices to 2½ hours or less.
Whatever it takes, Hite wants his team ready for the October grind.
"We don't need to be going for 3 to 3½ hours," Hite said. "We need to keep the guys fresh and motivated."
West believes North is further ahead than it was at this point last year. Hite took his squad to the Wisconsin-Platteville and St. Ambrose team camps along with a couple workouts at Augustana College's Lindberg Stadium.
The Wildcats play five games away from Brady Street Stadium this year as opposed to just two a year ago.
"Guys understand we've got to go on the road and perform at a high level," Hite said.
North jumped on the radar with its start last season. The Wildcats are eager to prove that wasn't an aberration.
They also have an eye on a better finish.
West said for that to happen, it has to develop more consistency in practice and on game nights.
"We proved we can win last year," West said. "This group's job is to prove it wasn't a fluke and we are going to keep it moving forward.
"If we can recreate what happened last year, that can set a new standard for what North football and North athletics is all about."