It was a chilly February day when new Kenston football coach Jeff Grubich met with his players for the first time.
Standing in front of a group of boys who were about to play for their third head coach in as many years, Grubich asked what the boys expected out of the season and then told him what his goals were.
"You could tell he was high on us," senior quarterback Daryl Richards said. "He wanted to win it big the first time."
The Bombers are getting close to doing that.
Entering Friday's game against West Geauga, Kenston is riding the crest of a six-game winning streak and are in control of their own destiny in both the Chagrin Division of the CVC and in the Division II, Region 5 computer ratings that determines playoff positioning.
If Kenston wins its final two games, it will be playoff bound and win an undisputed conference championship for the first time since 1995 — when Grubich was a senior at rival Chagrin Falls.
"He said he wanted to turn the program around," said senior Ryan Snedeker — one of five captions on this year's team — of the February meeting. "We believe him. We follow him. We like him. We trust him. And we believe in ourselves."
Setting such lofty goals in the CVC's Chagrin Division can be a touchy situation. Aiming for championships in a conference that includes Aurora (who won a Division II state title in 2008), Chagrin Falls (who played in Division III state final four the past three seasons) and Perry (who made long tournament runs in Division IV the a few years back) isn't considered easy sailing.
But coming from Mentor, where he coached with successful Steve Trivisonno, Grubich set the bar high — and just wanted to make sure he knew where his new players stood before they got started.
"We came in in February and said what we wanted to achieve and our goals were aligned," Grubich said. "Right now, we are where we want to be."
Operating in the fast-paced offense that Grubich brought with him from Mentor and playing a fast, physical defense, the Bombers got off to a slow start, coming up short in both of their first two games.
It was the first crossroads of the new regime.
New coach, new system and same results — and 0-2 start, including a loss in Week 1 for the fourth season in a row.
But instead of hanging their heads following a 17-14 loss to Hudson and a 29-28 loss to Chardon, the Bombers continued to follow their leader.
"Four points," senior captain Andrew Soltay said. "Those four points have always been eating at us. Those four points are our motivation for the rest of the season."
The lesson was learned — no hurdle can be overlooked if the Bombers wanted to reach their goals. Not that the Bombers overlooked Hudson and Chardon — they didn't — but the attention to detail following those losses increased exponentially.
As did the leadership from those who mattered most, the team captains.
"(Winning in football) is a different experience," said senior lineman Sam Coverdale, standing next to fellow captain Richards. "But we had success in other sports — basketball — so we knew what it was like."
Richards said Kenston's contention in basketball last winter helped.
"You have to stay focused," Richards said. "Some might get a big head and think playoffs, playoffs, playoffs, but we can't think about that. We can only think of the CVC games."
Taking one step at a time, Kenston has won six straight. Included in the run was a 28-17 win over rival Chagrin Falls, their first win over the Tigers since 2007.
To this day, Grubich won't let his team look further ahead than the current day's practice. The Week 10 battle royale with Aurora? A game that could be for a an undisputed league title and a home game in the first round of the playoffs?
It means nothing right now, Grubich said. Handle your business through 10 weeks and good things can happen, he tells his team.
"We laid out our goals on the table," Coverdale said. "Beat Chagrin was the first one, (then) CVC champs and then playoffs. We accomplished our first goal and we're working on our second. We're not going to worry about the third until we get the second."
Which means there is no one at 9500 Bainbridge Road looking past 3-5 West Geauga.
Soltay said the excitement around the hallways of the school are at an all-time high and that reaching the goals the team laid out in February and stuck with even with the 0-2 start would "shock the community."
But he quickly turned his attention to the importance of Friday's trip up Route 306 to face the Wolverines.
The dream is close. The goals are within reach. But glancing at the last hurdle and finish line usually results in a face-plant on an earlier hurdle, so the Bombers aren't taking any chances.
"I think our team has figured out they have to keep working hard," Grubich said. "If they do that, good things will happen on Friday nights."
Related Podcast: Kenston coach Jeff Grubich talks about the Bombers' six-game winning streak and goals for the season, as well as the work ethic of his program. Select to listen or right click to download