Before the 2004 season began, word around the AA Dulles District was that Heritage possessed one of the league's most talented teams. Coach Wes Driskill didn't deny it, and that's perhaps largely why he was so troubled after the Pride finished 3-7 despite consecutive district victories over Loudoun County and Dominion to close the season.

"The reality was we underachieved," Driskill said. "Not grossly. But we did underachieve. And I needed to figure out why."

So Driskill enrolled in a leadership class over the winter, and then he offered to teach that same material to every player who was interested.

"I went through it myself first, because I saw that I needed to be more of a vocal leader myself in some ways, too," Driskill said. "And I found it very beneficial, which is why I wanted to offer it to the guys. We just didn't have the leadership last year, and so our seniors now never really had anyone to learn from. After two years of waiting, and then seeing that it didn't develop, I decided to be proactive."

Nearly every junior and senior in Heritage's football program, as well as a few sophomores, attended the 10-week course, which was held one day a week on non-weightlifting days during the spring.

"It really brought everyone together, created more of a team atmosphere," said four-year varsity defensive end Tyler Langmead. "It gave us steps to lead and help encourage our teammates. And you can already see a difference. We had easily twice as many people participating in the weight room during the offseason as we've ever had before. Everybody was in there working, and that's a whole turnaround from past seasons."

That's because one of the messages Driskill took pains to get across in his lectures was that for those who wanted to be considered leaders, hard work year-round was a necessity.

He made sure the players understood that no spot, regardless of whether there was a returning starter at that position, was guaranteed.

"I wanted them to understand that if you're no better an athlete now than when you walked off that field in November, then it doesn't matter what you've done in the past," Driskill said. "We're not having any more complacency in this program. . . . We do have good talent, but we're not head and shoulders above anybody, so we have to continue to work.

"We want to be able to take advantage of our talent on the field . . . but it has to be ready."

Langmead said the team wasted little time absorbing Driskill's advice.

"Already just in preseason the seniors have been so much more vocal than in years past," he said. "And we're expecting a much better season overall because of it. Not just in our performance, but in our attitudes, too. Everything is different this year."

Don't Miss

Heritage at Handley

Sept. 24, 1 p.m.

The Judges, a playoff team a year ago in the AA Northwestern District, are extremely well coached and perennially loaded with talent at the skill positions. This early-season trip to Winchester will provide a stiff test for the Pride and should give the team an indication of just how well it's progressing heading into district play.

This Season's Schedule

DateOpponentTimeSept. 2Millbrook7:30Sept. 9Hyde7:30Sept.16at Brentsville7:30Sept. 24at Handley1Sept. 30Loudoun County7:30Oct. 14Park View*7:30Oct. 21Broad Run7:30Oct. 28at Dominion7:30Nov. 4Potomac Falls7:30Nov. 11at Loudoun County7:30*homecoming

Last Year's Results

DateOpponentResultSept. 3at MillbrookW, 26-19Sept. 10Fork Union L, 28-22Sept. 20BrentsvilleL , 28-14Oct. 1at Broad RunL, 28-14Oct. 8Stone BridgeL, 32-3Oct. 15Loudoun ValleyL,36-13Oct. 22at Park ViewL, 38-7Oct. 29at Potomac FallsL, 14-7Nov. 5Loudoun CountyW, 26-20Nov. 15at DominionW, 28-19

Seniors Tyler Langmead, left, and Jason Cadwell return to the Heritage lineup this year.