PRESTON — Sometimes a coaching change can be difficult. New philosophies, different schemes, contrasting personalities from the previous coach — the list can be never-ending.
But for Easton Valley, the transition to Tony Johnson has been seamless following a rocky 2-7 campaign last year.
The good news: Johnson has at least one supporter in defensive phenom Braydin Farrell, the team's leading tackler from a season ago as just a sophomore.
"Usually it is tough when you get a new coach but I feel like we have been good," Farrell said. "Everyone is buying into the new stuff he is putting in and we are coming together... I think we are going to have a good year."
Buying into what, exactly?
Johnson says it is less about X's and O's and more about building an environment that encompasses the team's commitment to improvement.
"We started building a culture in the summer," Johnson said. "When we came into camp [on July 30] it was kind of seamless... we are really excited about getting going."
Johnson currently serves as the principal at Easton Valley and has been away from the game for three years after leading Highland (Riverside) for six seasons.
He could be seen among the spectators on most Friday nights last season and it is safe to say he is ready to return to the sidelines.
"For me, I have been away for the game for three years being an administrator so the juices got flowing for me [at camp] and I was excited about that," Johnson said.
While the River Hawks graduated offensive dual threat Cameron Wilhem last May, the team has no shortage of playmakers to step in and make an immediate impact.
Nathan Trenkamp will return for his junior season and open the season as the team's starting quarterback. Last year, as a sophomore, Trenkamp threw for 1,720 yards and 23 touchdowns in the fast paced 8-man brand of football.
"I feel like I have a lot more experience under my belt after last season," Trenkamp said. "I'm just ready to take over the team and lead the team... I think we have a lot better team than last season."
Easton Valley has moved from District No. 3 from District No. 4, a league that will provide fresh opportunity for the River Hawks, as only two teams (Midland and Springville) from last season's schedule are slated for 2018.
While Midland, which finished 9-3 last season, expects to be in the conversation as one of the district's frontrunners, Johnson believes the remaining contenders are negotiable, including his group.
"It is an interesting district because a couple of teams had a winning record [last year], but other than that, everyone had a losing one," Johnson said. "I look at that and think it is wide open.
"There were a few senior-dominated teams that moved forward, too, so I think that some teams who were younger last year like us have a chance to make some noise."
While 8-man football promotes the idea of high-scoring contests with less tacklers to elude on the way to the end zone, Easton Valley simply yielded too many points last season.
The River Hawks allowed over 70 points four times last year, including a 93-point outburst from Baxter in the season finale.
Farrell said improvement is on the horizon within the young and inexperienced unit, as the entire roster only sports three seniors.
"We for sure need to improve our defense from last year," Farrell said. "Last year, we gave up a lot of points and didn't get many takeaways... this year we have a new scheme and a new coach so we plan on taking the ball away more and stopping the run."
Easton Valley will open the regular season Friday to host Dunkerton. The River Hawks play their first district opponent on Sept. 7, where they will travel to take on Central Elkader.