Aquinas junior Eric Stallings has undergone a major attitude adjustment since his freshman season.
Back then he was negative - he'd gotten used to losing on the football field and, perhaps even worse, he'd accepted the defeats.
"Losing," the quarterback said, "came second-nature to me."
All that's changed now. With new coach Jim Connor and a 3-1 record heading into the Fighting Irish's Region 7-A opener at Twiggs County on Friday, Stallings accentuates the positives and forgets the negatives.
But it hasn't been easy - especially the first time Connor met with his new team.
A team of just 17 players.
"When I saw that, I just tried to keep my head up," Stallings said. "That was a big question. I looked at them, and I thought that I had to have optimistic eyes for the rest of the team."
So far, those optimistic eyes have seen Aquinas outscore its past three opponents 85-31.
After taking a 35-0 spanking from Harlem to begin the season, the victories have been a welcome relief for Connor, who took over this season for current Evans coach Marty Jackson.
"It's been a surprise," said Connor, who has doubled his team's spring-meeting total to 34 players. "We've been real lucky, because we haven't had anybody hurt. The kids have bought into the program. The kids have been coming to practice everyday. You get on them and you fuss at them, but they listen."
Partially, that's because Aquinas is so young.
With only four seniors on the roster - just one of whom starts - the Fighting Irish have been led by a corps of junior and sophomores that includes Stallings and 5-foot-2, 125-pound running back Patrick Nordmann.
The two combined to rush for 218 yards and three touchdowns in last week's 29-13 win against Athens Christian, but now, the easy stretch of the schedule is over.
Considering the Fighting Irish's past three opponents have a combined record of 1-13, what has their three-game winning streak told Connor?
"Well, we've gotten better the last three weeks," he said. "But those teams we've played haven't been Harlem either."
And Aquinas' opponent this week will be its toughest challenge to date.
The Cobras are ranked No. 5 in Class A and are the defending region champions, and two weeks later, the Fighting Irish will face top-ranked Lincoln County.
For a team that hasn't been to the playoffs since 1973, the rocky schedule is not a good sign.
But Nordmann isn't looking too far ahead. He's focused on Twiggs County and keeping the winning streak alive.
He - like Stallings - is staying positive.
"We want to get their respect, and we want to give them a good game," he said. "That's what we're shooting for."
Reach Josh Katzowitz at (706) 823-3216 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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