After a rocky, hectic, sometimes overwhelming year as athletic director at Northwest High School, Tom Manuel probably figures he deserves some kind of reward. A plaque, maybe. Or an all-expenses-paid trip to a tropical island, where palm trees are prevalent and multi-line telephones are not.

Instead, Manuel will get -- another rocky, hectic, sometimes overwhelming year. It likely will be smoother than the inaugural year at the Germantown school, but life is never easy for athletic directors. There are just degrees of difficulty.

"Every day I get a stack of things done and I say, `Okay, I'm on top of things,' " Manuel said. "And then the next morning I come in, and I have eight new voicemails and 10 new e-mails asking me for things."

Manuel has resigned himself to at least laughing about his busy schedule. A sign above his desk reads: "I can only please one person per day. Today is not your day. Tommorow doesn't look good either."

Still, it seems most people at Northwest cannot read the writing on the wall.

"There have been days when I come in and say, `Oh no, what am I getting into today?' " Manuel said. "I'll have four or five people at my door asking me to do something right away. `Sign this, check that, look for this.' "

Not that Manuel is above asking for help. He often turns to Debbie Myers, a self-described "foolish volunteer" who serves as president of the Northwest High School Booster Club. Like Manuel, Myers finds her job isn't getting much easier. In at least one way, it's tougher.

"It was a neat year to sell school [clothing and paraphernalia] because nobody had anything," she said.

But at least Myers can bank on palpable school spirit now. The trophy case outside the gym is full. Granted, it's full with tokens of minor achievements -- the ball from the first field hockey goal, the football from the first junior varsity win -- but it's full. And quite a few students are wearing the black and silver of Northwest.

At this time last year, most students were skeptical about their new school, and Myers was calling the Jaguars the "Wildcats." The uneasiness lasted into the school year.

"At first everybody wanted to go back to their schools," said Kathy Walenciak, a sophomore on Northwest's soccer and track teams who transferred from Seneca Valley. "In the middle of the year, I decided I did not want to go back."

Because there were no seniors at Northwest this year, Manuel and Principal Edward Shirley were not sure whether the Jaguars should field varsity teams. He decided juniors should not be forced to play junior varsity. Besides, most of the school -- and most of Montgomery County -- expected this to be a trial year, one with few wins.

Larry Hurd Jr., who coached the girls basketball team, was an exception. He told his players that although they were young, they did not have to play poorly. The team finished with a 12-10 record, a surprising performance.

"Our biggest asset was that we came into it believing we were going to win," Hurd said. "We decided we were not going to make the fact that we only have juniors an excuse.

"That's what I believe it was: an excuse. And looking at our success, I believe we were right."

Hurd said the team "is going to contend for a state championship next season," but it will have to do so with a new coach. Hurd is leaving for Poolesville, where he was offered a teaching position, something he did not have at Northwest, as well as the boys basketball coaching job.

That means two more firsts for Northwest: The first head coach who needs to be replaced and the first high expectations for a team. No, things aren't easy as Northwest heads into its second year. Just normal.

CAPTION: Beth Muehl, Northwest's assistant outdoor track coach, talks to her team at Friday's season-ending pep rally at the year-old Germantown school.