When John Iannucci took over a struggling North Stafford football program this year, he knew his first task was to convince the athletes they could win. The school had lost 12 straight games over a two-year period and with so many inexperienced players, the losing streak seemed destined to continue.

The streak reached 17 before Iannucci's positive approach finally began to sink in. Gary LaFleur returned punts 72 and 67 yards for touchdowns, tackle Chris Donnelly turned in another outstanding defensive game and North Stafford broke its streak with a 23-15 victory over Stonewall Jackson last Friday night.

"That took a lot of pressure off the kids," said Iannucci, who coached four years at Midlothian High School where he compiled a 23-18 record with one district title. "After a while, they start to wonder if they can win. Just like at Midlothian, where we started with a 3-7 record, we hope to show steady progress here. This is a big school and there are good athletes here.

"We played well against Stonewall Jackson but it wasn't our best game. We played good against Fauquier {lost 27-7} and James Wood {lost 16-0} for three periods before falling apart."

Iannucci will have a good nucleus of players returning next season, including Donnelly, LaFleur, fullback/defensive back Willie Johnson, linemen Todd Vaughn and cornerback Jim Lynch. Other players having good seasons are linebacker Sean Johnson and lineman Ashton Green.

Iannucci has a big task facing him this week. North Stafford plays second-ranked Courtland, which has won 27 of its last 28 games and is one of the highest scoring teams in the metropolitan area, averaging 40 points per game. But the optimistic Iannucci expects his team to give another big effort.

"They are a real good football team and our kids are somewhat in awe of them," he said. "I have to convince the kids they are teenagers just like them. Of course, this win has to help our confidence. It was nice to win before playing Courtland."