For the past three years, Ethan Wulf didn't really have any desire to play soccer.
Watching Davenport North win nine total games in that span didn't do much to generate excitement.
"I just saw the program, and I didn't really want to be a part of it," said Wulf, who played soccer through middle school. "No one really cared about it, didn't have anything going for it so I thought it was better off not trying."
But when Dave Gamble was hired as the new head coach of the Wildcats in July, Wulf had a change of heart.
"Once he came, that was a big reason I wanted to join because I knew he'd make something big, and I wanted to be a part of it," Wulf said. "He said, 'If you guys follow me and I can show you what you need to do, and you work and give me 100 percent of your effort, we will win.'"
Gamble has injected excitement into a program that has long been lacking it, and the Wildcats are quickly reaping the rewards, off to a 6-0 start and ranked 13th in Class 3A by the Iowa High School Soccer Coaches Association.
A year ago at this time, North was 0-6 and had been outscored 26-5. This year the Wildcats are undefeated and the only team in Class 3A yet to surrender a goal.
"I told them the very first day, we're going to lose, we're going to lose often and we're going to get better every single day," Gamble said. "They've kind of skipped over those first two and said we're going to get better every single day, and they have.
"I had a vision of maybe we could be here, maybe we could be .500. ... Did it go faster than I thought? Yes."
Gamble has a long history of coaching soccer in the Quad-Cities. He formed the FCA Eagles club team in 2007, which went 223-28-16 in four years. He was the head coach of Davenport Central from 2006-09, guiding the Blue Devils to their only state tournament trip in 2009.
He left Central to serve as an assistant at Bettendorf in 2010, helping the Bulldogs reach the state tournament four times, including a runner-up finish last year.
Gamble's time at Bettendorf cemented the importance of weight lifting throughout the entire year, and so when he got to North, one of his first trips was to the weight room.
He implemented a weight-lifting regimen of three days a week during the offseason and two days a week in-season. When North's game against Muscatine was postponed due to weather Wednesday, he had the team in the weight room for a brief lift.
"For me, I've always enjoyed being in the weight room, and I really helped with the others getting into it," senior Kyp Rhidenhour said. "I think, at the start, they weren't really excited, but now everyone sees how it pays off so they're excited to get into the weight room and excited to get bigger every day."
Gamble also tried getting athletes to join the team, regardless of their soccer background. Thanks to some heavy in-school recruiting, Wulf wasn't the only one on the team who has decided to give the sport another try. Senior De'Viann Titus-Porter joined the team after playing football and freshman Yovani Morales is playing his first soccer since he was 6.
"If you could jump, I wanted you. If you could run, I wanted you," Gamble said. "I need athletes in the program because pretty soon athletes start turning into wins on the JV team. The JV team starts to win, all of a sudden they're 5-0-1 right now.
"It's not just the varsity team changing, the culture of the program is starting to change."
With so much inexperience, it wouldn't have been surprising if North had started slowly. Instead, the Wildcats are off to their best start in the last decade after winning three games last year and one two seasons ago.
That is, in large part, due to the defense, which is riding the high of six consecutive shutouts. Junior Donovan Weaver is the only keeper in the state, regardless of class, to not allow a goal while making at least 40 saves.
"It's nice to know we've had those shutouts but even keel is what I'm looking at," said Weaver, who has made 41 saves this year, 13 in his last game against Davenport West. "It's mostly our back line putting in the work so I just have to come up with the occasional big save."
While there's plenty of new faces, there are those who have stuck it out all four years, including Rhidenhour. He's already matched his scoring output from last year with seven goals and two assists in the first six games, the MAC's leading scorer. After all the struggles of the program over his career, this start has been even more rewarding.
"It feels good. Obviously we haven't really played anybody too big yet, but we did play a couple ranked teams in other classes so we feel good with where we're at," Rhidenhour said. "But we still have a lot to accomplish."
Rhidenhour isn't wrong when he mentions the team's schedule. North has yet to play perennial conference powers Bettendorf, Pleasant Valley or Davenport Central. But the Wildcats do own wins over Dubuque Hempstead and Assumption, two teams they lost to last year.
They'll be tested this weekend when they head to Des Moines to play Marshalltown and Des Moines Roosevelt, and the key now will be how the Wildcats react when they inevitably give up a goal, or if they suffer their first loss.
"We feel like we can play with anybody in the state, but honestly the rank is just a number next to our name. We still have a lot to prove," Weaver said. "The sky's the limit for this team, we just have to keep putting in the work on and off the field."