Mount St. Mary senior linebacker and tight end Joe Mussatto feels a little more inspired on the football field this season.
“Everyone's got a different mindset this year,” Mussatto said. “In years past, we haven't had the confidence we have now. The new coaching staff has really got us all excited about the new season.”
For his part, Chris Stiles didn't expect to be back in coaching.
After Stiles, the former Lawton Eisenhower and Westmoore coach, and his wife, who is a St. Mary alum, decided to enroll their son in the school as a freshman, Stiles became the school's advancement director, a job he has held for the last six years. But when former football coach Dal Nichols resigned in January, the job piqued his interest.
“I still have a love and passion for football, but I didn't think I would coach again,” said Stiles, who played at Oklahoma State under Jimmy Johnson and Pat Jones and later coached under Jones at OSU and under Lou Holtz at Notre Dame.
“This opportunity came about, and the more I thought about it, the more excited I got about it. I just thought myself and the staff we can put together and the kids that are here on campus could change this program. We could be the ones that turn Mount St. Mary football.”
Stiles, who led Lawton Eisenhower to a state runner-up finish in 1992, turned to two friends and former head coaches to help him with that mission, which involves changing the culture in a football program that hasn't experienced a winning season in 26 years.
Former Putnam City coach Mark Little, who retired after the 2008 season, returned to coaching to be the Rockets' offensive coordinator under Stiles. St. Mary's defensive coordinator is Dale Brown, who is the former head coach at Norman North.
“It definitely gives me some reassurance,” senior quarterback John Tener said of the new coaching staff's vast experience. “I've always looked up to the coaching staff, and really tried to analyze the example that they set for me, and really use their knowledge to make me better. And I'm really confident that these coaches will help me do that.”
Only time will tell how quickly Stiles, who has a career record in Oklahoma of 62-30, can turn the program into a winner. But some are expecting significant strides in Year 1.
“We saw it early in the spring,” Little said. “The first thing you look at are the eyes of those young men.
“Not everything is gonna go perfect, but I've been in these situations and I know how quickly a snowball can start going downhill and building momentum. ... There's some cautious optimism here because we see them doing some things that we ordinarily don't see in a situation like this.”
Stiles said the Rockets have about 60 kids out for football this year, and a freshman class of 26.
“(Mount St. Mary has) success in softball and basketball and other sports, and now it's time for football to be up there with those other programs in our school,” Mussatto said. “It's really exciting to be part of the first team that can change it all around for us.”