The Helias Crusaders have been there. A couple of times.
When Chris Hentges took over as Helias' head coach in 2006, he made the decision to switch from a run-based offense to a spread attack. When Hentges came back as head coach three-plus years ago, the Crusaders made the same transition.
It's what the Capital City Cavaliers are going through right now under first-year coach Joe Collier.
"It begins with teaching the basic concepts, whether it's run concepts or pass concepts," Hentges said as the Crusaders (4-1 overall, 3-0 CMAC) prepared to take on the Cavaliers (0-5, 0-3) tonight for Homecoming at Ray Hentges Stadium. "You want to be multiple, run and pass with equal effectiveness."
The Cavaliers didn't have much of a passing attack operating out of the flexbone last year.
"To develop a good passing attack is job one," Hentges said. "Teaching the receivers to run good, crisp routes because they didn't have to do that before. Teaching your quarterback to read a defense, with the different looks and coverages you will get because you're running a multi-formational offense.
"Those are things that take time to instill in your team."
Helias had a base to build off of as an established program when the changes were made, while Capital City is in just its second year of varsity football. It takes time for things to click, but when they do
"You don't necessarily see that progress in Year 1," Hentges said. "But you should see it from Year 1 to Year 2, and then from Year 2 to Year 3. At least in our standpoint, we saw big jumps."
In Hentges' first tenure, the Crusaders went from 7-3 to 11-3 to 14-1. The second time? They went from 4-7 to 9-2 to 14-0 and a Class 4 state championship.
"You see that 1 to 2 to 3," Hentges said. "Capital City is still in Year 1 of a tough transition. I expect them to improve each year as they stick with it."
Hentges said the Crusaders have seen improvements in the Cavaliers this season, not just on offense. Capital City has shifted to a 3-4 defense this season.
"You can see they are picking things up and becoming more comfortable," he said. "You can see that improvement each week, it's a team that is getting better and better. They have some skilled individuals.
Collier was the long-time defensive coordinator at Rock Bridge before coming to Capital City.
"As we evaluate them, we see a similarity to Rock Bridge," Hentges said. "We're not going to repeat the same game-plan we had last week, but there are a lot of things the two of them do that are similar because of coach Collier."
Offensively, the Crusaders expect to see the Cavaliers in a defensive scheme very similar to what Rock Bridge employed last Friday night against Helias in Columbia. The Bruins used a three-man front, with some shifting to a four-man front at times.
"Capital City's front-seven is very good," Hentges said.
The run game is the strong suit of the Cavaliers' offense so far this season.
"Their offensive linemen fire off the ball and their running backs run extremely hard," Hentges said.
The defense has been a strong suit for the Crusaders this season. Their performance against Rock Bridge was their best of the season, with the No. 1 Helias group giving up just one touchdown to a Bruin offense that had been averaging more than 30 points per game.
The biggest play for Helias came when Kaden Hampson returned an interception for a touchdown late in the first half.
"A defensive takeaway, momentum-killing situation for them and such a momentum-building thing for us," Hentges said.
The Crusaders entered the season with some questions about a defense that returned just three starters. Among the big losses were linebackers Ethan Holzhauser and Isaac Lopez. But Tyler Sandbothe, Beau Bondurant and Korbin Fisher have combined to fill those roles this season.
"Let's be honest, we graduated two fantastic inside linebackers last year," Hentges said. "That's the place where we needed the most growth, but they have improved with their play each week.
"They are the heart of our defense, we ask them to be great run-stoppers, get the front lined up, read keys, pass drops, it's a really big job."
Helias quarterback Drew Miller played his best game of the season against Rock Bridge, completing 11-of-13 passes for 179 yards and two touchdowns.
"It wasn't his best yardage-wise, but he made good decisions with the football as he gets more comfortable with the speed of things at the varsity level," Hentges said.
Coming off the big win against Rock Bridge, with a game with Jefferson City looming next Friday and with it being Homecoming, there's a chance Helias could get caught not playing its best tonight.
But Hentges said the coaching staff has made it clear to the team that will not be acceptable.
"We've been mature and focused about things this week," he said. "If you've got a mature group with good senior leadership, it shouldn't be a distraction."
It shouldn't because the Crusaders have some goals to achieve this season. And tonight's game is part of those.
"The kids are motivated to win another city championship, to win another conference title," Hentges said. "We were really proud to win those last year in the first year we could win them and we want to retain those."
Helias won the unofficial Columbia city championship by sweeping Hickman, Battle and Rock Bridge this season. Now their attention turns more local.
"We're going to be tested the next two weeks by the Jefferson City schools, there are a lot of bragging rights on the line," Hentges said. "Those two games were a lot of fun last year and I think the kids are excited to play them again."
Game time is 7 p.m.
Notes: Helias is expecting to have the biggest crowd ever for a Crusader home game tonight. "We'll test the capacity," Hentges said. Helias is tied at No. 8 with Platte County in this week's Class 5 Missouri Media state rankings. The Crusaders are a little banged up after their game with the Bruins. "Last week was a physical game," Hentges said. Carson Brauner led the Crusaders with seven tackles against the Bruins, while Gage Wilde totaled six stops. Wilde leads Helias with 42 total tackles this season, while Sandbothe has 34 and Bondurant has 32. Bondurant and Fisher lead with four sacks each. Helias defeated Capital City 51-6 last season at Adkins Stadium. Helias has won all nine of its CMAC games in the one-plus years of the conference. Helias is second in the Class 5 District 4 standings with 47.59 points. Holt (5-0), ranked No. 3 in Class 5, leads the district with 51.8 points. The top two teams in the six-team district will receive first-round byes. Battle, Liberty: Wentzville, Washington and Capital City are currently 3-6, respectively.