Rick Scott's first pass play at Buena High could not have been more well-received. He took off a large, gleaming ring commemorating Hart High's 1986 Northwestern Conference championship and passed it around to all of next season's seniors.
"My championship year at Hart was the best group of seniors I had there," Scott told the group. "You can't have a successful team without seniors taking on a large part of the load."
Tommy Lunsford, a senior defensive back, recalls that the players were solemn as they gingerly fingered the ring.
"We were all looking at it and Coach Scott said he's going to keep coaching until he gets another one--even if it takes until his 6-year-old son, Jake, quarterbacks the varsity club," said Lunsford, who broke into a long laugh.
With one act, Scott, who last month replaced Mike Olgy as coach at Buena after four highly successful years at Hart, had revealed his two dominant characteristics--motivator and humorist.
By making clear at the outset that the seniors would not be brushed aside during a season of transition, Scott was ensuring maximum effort.
By lightening the mood, he was ensuring that the ring passing did not create unrealistic expectations on a team that should be delighted just to make the playoffs. Buena was 2-8 last season and has not qualified for postseason play since 1981.
"The attitude has completely changed out there," said Lunsford of Buena's current spring practices. "It's completely positive. We're already together as a team."
The reason for the enthusiasm is the Hart transplant, whose winning reputation clearly preceded him at his new post. Besides a record of 13-1 during Hart's conference championship season, the Indians were 20-0 in Foothill League games under Scott and had an overall record of 41-9-2.
"Any time there is change, there is a change in attitude with kids," Scott said. "I had a winning record at Hart. The kids figure I'm gonna do the same things here.
"Enthusiasm is contagious and the players seem to have taken my enthusiasm from the first or second meeting and carried it onto the practice field."
And once on the field, the fun really begins.
"Humor helps create enthusiasm," Scott said. "We can have fun at practice and still break a sweat and get grass stains on our pants. We can have fun and still make the mental and physical commitment to get the job done."
In turn, Scott's teams are fun to watch.
Besides filling the air with one-liners guaranteed to draw guffaws from football players ("Most of the jokes can't be printed," Lunsford said), Scott fills the air with footballs.
"I advocate passing the ball and that excites kids," he said. "Every kid who has ever caught a ball in his back yard is out for spring football."
Last spring about 35 players tried out for the varsity. This year, there are more than 60.
And who knows? Maybe there is a Brent Spurlin, Jim Bonds or Darren Renfro among them. Those are the quarterbacks who passed for nearly 10,000 yards under Scott at Hart.
Spurlin passed for 1,482 yards and six touchdowns in 1984, when Hart was 8-2-1, mediocre numbers compared with the next three years.
Bonds, whose name is listed in the Southern Section record book more than any quarterback other than Pat Haden, passed for 5,643 yards and 55 touchdowns in two seasons. As a junior, he directed the Indians to a record of 9-4-1 and a berth in the Coastal Conference final.
The next season Hart won 13 games in a row after losing the opener to archrival Canyon, 42-32. Bonds passed for 3,197 yards (second on the all-time Southern Section list) and 39 touchdowns (third all-time). Running back Chris Hite caught 88 passes (sixth all-time) for 1,188 yards and 19 touchdowns (fourth all-time).
Scott disproved last season any speculation that he was merely along for the ride with Bonds and Co. Hart defeated Canyon in the opener, posted a record of 11-2, and set more passing records. Renfro, a brash left-hander with no varsity experience at quarterback, passed for 2,808 yards and 26 touchdowns.
Brian Jacobs, a three-year starter at offensive tackle at Hart, believes Buena fans will be treated to much of the same.
"They'll definitely see more passing than they are used to," he said. "and higher scoring games. And the quarterback will be the unquestioned leader in the huddle. Even if he isn't cut out to be a leader."
Players who attract the attention of college scouts are treated right by Scott. Several Hart players earned scholarships, including Bonds (UCLA), Jacobs (UCLA) and Hite (Santa Clara).
"Coach Scott does a good job with placing players, even ones who aren't of obvious Division I caliber," Jacobs said. "He gets them exposed."
Even if expectations appear high at Buena, where fans hunger for a winner, they can't match what they were at Hart, where fans demanded a winner.