Brian Webb's first practice with the Jefferson High School football team began precisely at 7 a.m. Monday with the moon still visible over Kingston Stadium.
Not 7:01 a.m. and certainly not 7:03 a.m. The whistle blew at exactly 7 o'clock and the J-Hawks surrounded their new coach for instructions.
Nobody was late.
"We're holding people accountable," Webb said after practice. "This is real life. That's why I love the game of football. It's teaching these kids the skills they need."
Webb inherited a 22-game losing streak when he succeeded Jim Womochil as head coach. He's trying to instill a new attitude, based on discipline and toughness.
"We're trying to change a lot of habits here," he said. "We've got a lot of good kids. I'm very excited to coach this team.
"We have a lot of tough kids," he said. "We don't have a lot of kids out, but the ones we do have are extremely tough kids. That's the one thing you have to have in the game of football is toughness."
The J-Hawks had 32 players on the practice field Monday morning. There are four additional players listed on the roster for a total of 36, and Webb thinks a few more guys will show up by the time school starts.
Jefferson had 45 players on its roster last season, according to the IHSAA website, but that number dwindled due to a series of injuries.
Webb compiled an 18-4 record in two years at Carroll Kuemper, which was his first venture as a head coach. He's facing a major rebuilding job at Jefferson, but appears to have captured the players' attention.
"He's organized and he's to the point," said junior quarterback Layne Sullivan. "He knows what he wants to do. We need to do the work. We just have to focus on that, day in and day out.
"Practices are a lot more precise, a lot more on-time," he said. "We have a timer (clock) up there in the stands. That really helps. Everyone is getting reps. Everyone is working hard."
All of the J-Hawks received a playbook during the offseason and were expected to study it before practice began.
"We actually did get a pretty good-sized playbook this year," Sullivan said. "You actually have to read it. You can't come out here and look at it. Wide receivers found that out today: 'What's going on here? What route am I running?'
"Last year we didn't really get a playbook. But this year you've got to read that thing and know what's going on."
The J-Hawks have a lot to learn in a short period of time.
"We're running the spread," Sullivan revealed. "A lot of options and reads and all that stuff. Any spread offense is like that.
"We've just got to convert plays and get some yards and put up some points. That's about it."
Webb has seven new assistant coaches on his 17-man staff for the freshman, sophomore and varsity teams. One of the new assistants is former Hawkeye receiver Willie Guy, who lives in the Jefferson school district.
Webb wants his coaches to lead by example, and he personally set the pace by leading a series of drills himself. "I didn't achieve my success by accident," he remarked. "I work extremely hard at what I do. I don't cut corners."
Jefferson's first practice appeared to be crisp and productive, but Webb sounded a little disappointed.
"I thought it was a little bit lackadaisical from what we had last week at camp," he said. "I thought camp was a little bit better.
"This is all new to them. Getting kids to understand the X's and O's part, making sure they know where to line up and things like that.
"There's a lot of things going on right now in their minds. Tempo was good at times, but we're just trying to get kids to understand that practices are going to win the games. We're not just going to show up Fridays. Our practices are going to determine our success."
Make no mistake, the J-Hawks are tired of losing. Jefferson has not won a football game since midway through the 2009 campaign, when the current seniors were freshmen.
Hard work is the key. No shortcuts.
"We have to work hard everywhere we go," Sullivan said. "Hustling has a lot to do with it. Even if we're not the most skilled team, we have to work hard.
"We have to work hard so we can get the W's, because overall that's our main goal. We want to win some this year."
Jefferson was outscored 341-97 last season, an average margin of defeat of 38-11. Webb did not contribute to the 22-game losing streak, but he was hired to break it.
"We're not focused on the winning and losing," he said. "As I told the kids, I'm not focused on the scoreboard, I'm focused on the work ethic.
"If we play hard and we give our best effort and we lose, I can live with that. I've lost many games and I always knew the sun will rise tomorrow. But if we don't put forth our best effort, that's what frustrates me."
Jefferson opens the season on Friday, Aug. 24 at Prairie. The first home game is scheduled for Thursday, Aug. 30 against Xavier at Kingston Stadium.
"I like the progress we're making," Webb said. "I really like this team. We don't have a lot of kids, but like I said, they're tough."
Tough, and hungry.
"We're excited," Sullivan said. "It can't go any worse here, hopefully. We're just trying to get some wins and we're just trying to work hard and get back to the Jefferson tradition.
"There's been some good players in the past. We have some good players this year. We're just working to get back there."
Aug. 24 -- at Prairie
Aug. 30 -- Xavier
Sept. 7 -- at Dubuque Hempstead
Sept. 14 -- Iowa City High
Sept. 21 -- Waterloo East
Sept. 28 -- at Kennedy (Kingston Stadium)
Oct. 5 -- Washington
Oct. 12 -- at Iowa City West
Oct. 19 -- Dubuque Senior
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