Since last football season, Hylton Coach Bill Brown has received more than his share of handshakes, pats on the back and spoken congratulations for his undefeated team winning the Virginia AAA Division 6 state championship.
But that 21-13 victory over Varina did more than add a trophy to his shelf. It took a load off his mind. Brown had coached three teams to state championship games -- Potomac in 1989 and 1990 and Hylton in 1995 -- but had gone 0-3. The latter two losses were by one point.
Brown did not necessarily need a state title to validate his coaching credentials for himself, but finally snaring it proved to any doubters that one of his teams could win the proverbial Big One.
"It takes pressure off me, but it's pressure by the way other people judge," said Brown, who has never endured a losing season as a varsity head coach. "If you go by consistency, I wouldn't think I had anything to prove. [Others might] think if you get to the state final and consider yourself a good coach, or want to be considered a good coach, you better win it.
"The biggest thing with me personally is not that I'm satisfied or that this is all I ever wanted out of coaching. I'm just as excited this year as I've ever been, and it's as fun for me now as it's ever been."
The Bulldogs could become the first Prince William County team to win consecutive state crowns. Gar-Field won the Division 6 title in 1990.
"Before you start talking about repeating, you better try to be a district champion first because that's tough in itself," said Brown, whose team opens the season Friday at Petersburg. "There's a tremendous amount of competition out there in our district. I know what's out there waiting. A lot of teams out there want to do one thing: beat us."
One might think selling the district schedule to the returning Bulldogs a difficult task. They outscored the Cardinal District competition, 345-76, last season, including in two playoff games. But in the 1999 team, Brown has seen, both in the offseason and since practice began, the same sort of focused efficiency he admired for 14 solid weeks last fall.
"I haven't noticed a huge difference, but I think that's good," Brown said. "I want the same approach we had last year. I firmly believe that our kids right now are worried about one thing, and that's Petersburg.
"We're trying to approach things a whole lot like we approached last year, because we thought that way worked very well."