From the outside looking in, it's hard to fathom the quick turnaround that the Salem Greyhound football team has undergone over the past 12 months.
A year ago, Salem limped off the field at Greyhound Stadium, heads hung low, after a season-ending 30-6 loss to McCrory that finished off a one-win season for the Hounds.
Fast forward to this year and the way that the Greyhounds walked off the field at Diamondback Stadium in Magazine was a whole different story.
Sure, Salem's season ended with a loss to the Magazine Rattlers in the second round of the state tournament, but the Greyhounds made the trip to their post-game locker room with their heads held high, stoked by the thoughts of the nine-win campaign they had just completed.
That 9-3 season also included the school's second-ever victory in the playoffs, after Salem blitzed England a week earlier.
The Hounds also perfectly defended their home turf in 2011, winning all six games at Greyhound Stadium.
And if the defending state champion Rattlers were really honest with themselves, they'd probably admit that Salem gave them much more of a fight than they thought they were going to get on that late November night in Logan County.
Especially since Salem was pretty much in lock-step with Magazine right up until the half.
"It was a great experience for our kids to play against the defending state champions and to get a taste of that kind of competition," said Salem Head Coach Sammy Weir. "We now know what we have to improve on and what it takes to play as a unit for four quarters and what it takes to be in shape for four quarters. Not that we weren't in shape, but we got beat by a really good football team."
While they did hang tough for the first two quarters, the Rattlers got rolling in the second half and the Greyhounds just could not catch up.
"Well, that's just some of the things that you're going to have to overcome to be in the thick of the playoff race and to get to the championship game," Weir said.
So just what does it take to fashion an eight-game improvement from one season to the next?
Voodoo juice or a magic potion?
Not hardly, said Weir.
"It's a matter of belief. The kids have to believe in themselves and what they're out there for," he said. "It's teamwork. It's accountability. It's responsibility. Those are all the things we dwell on about what goes into making a football player and a team. And they took to it right off the bat. We had some really good practices in that August heat and I never heard the kids complain -- not one time -- about being out there. And brother, it was hot. But they worked through it and became a unit."
Weir points to a 21-6 road victory over Class 3A Yellville-Summit in week two as the moment when he felt his troops might be in for a special season.
"I knew when we beat Yellville that we had something going and, if they would keep up the execution and intensity and the spirit, we really had something," he said. "And what we had was a good football team."
Another good sign was when the Greyhounds fought back and came away with a 32-22 win at Walnut Ridge in week five, pushing the Hounds to a perfect 5-0 record midway through the year.
"We really capped the first part of the season off by coming back against Walnut Ridge," he said. "That was a big, big win. That proved a point. And the kids really got hung up on winning at that point. They had confidence galore and there's nothing like that."
Salem's only regular season losses came to East Poinsett County, the eventual 3-2A champion and state semi-finalist, along with the McCrory Jaguars, another team that made it to the second week of the playoffs.
"I thought we learned a whole lot this year about the level of competitiveness in our conference, because it's one of the better ones (in Class 2A) with a lot of speed, a lot of size and a lot of talent," said Weir.
"When we can finish either second or third in our conference and get to the playoffs, it's quite a honor. But it's also a heck of an accomplishment of what our kids did. They worked hard from August all the way until the last seconds of the game against Magazine."
The next stone in Salem's pathway to a deeper trip into the state playoffs will be laid during the off-season, according to the head coach.
"It's going to be done in the weight room. It's going to be done by keeping in shape and doing a lot of work and a lot of running in the summer," he said. "We're going to have to continue to get bigger, stronger and faster. We have to keep our mindset the way it was this year."
That "mindset" resulted in one of the most successful seasons in the annuls of Salem Greyhound football and was one that Weir clearly enjoyed being a part of.
"It was a great year and a great learning experience. I'm very proud of our kids and our program," the coach said. "They found out they could compete and they went out there and made it happen."