Coach Bob Abbey and the Lake football team know what losing feels like.
Now they're getting accustomed to the feeling that comes along with winning.
The Flyers, who went 3-17 the past two seasons, are off to a 4-1 start in 2009, which includes a 2-0 mark in the Suburban Lakes League. A win over winless Woodmore on Oct. 2 would assure Lake no worse than a .500 record this year.
"We have to worry about our mental state, that it's in good shape," Abbey said. "We set goals for ourselves. We're not an experienced bunch that's used to winning, but we set our goals high. We know the records of the teams we've beaten so far, but we think we're a good football team and the toughest part of our schedule is coming up."
Through five games the Flyers have outscored their opposition 123-62. Two of the teams they've defeated, Rossford and Otsego, are a combined 0-10, and Woodmore entered this week's game with an 0-5 mark.
Lake will get a good indication of the state of its program on Oct. 9, when it travels to SLL power Eastwood. The Eagles (5-0, 2-0) will be coming off an emotional league game against two-time defending SLL champion Genoa.
"We've been in this position three years in a row, with Eastwood coming off the Genoa game," Abbey said. "They're always a hungry bunch. If they are coming off a loss, they're going to be showing their teeth. I'm not predicting an Eastwood loss, but it's going to be a good high school football game between them."
The Eagles were so upset following last year's 24-0 loss to Genoa, they took it out on Lake the following week to the tune of 63-0.
"They hammered us good," Abbey said. "We got beat so bad by so many teams last year."
Abbey added that when he thinks of Eastwood, "speed comes to mind - and they play with lot of intensity on defense."
"For a lot of years now that's been a fast football team, and Jerry (Rutherford) does a great job of getting the ball into his fast guys' hands. You have to defend all the way across the field and try to get as many hats near the ball and gang tackle. They've used three quarterbacks this year and they've done a great job getting through this part of the season with all their injuries."
Rutherford, the Eagles' 27th-year head coach, said this week that he hasn't seen Lake on film yet, "but obviously starting out at 4-1 (shows) they have things headed in the right direction."
"Anytime you give a coach a chance to develop his program and the players start to buy in, you have the chance to be successful," he said. "Sometimes it just takes some time."
Abbey said one of the main reasons for his team's success this season has been improvement on defense.
"Our gang tackling has been the best," he said. "Our front four has done a real nice job being stout in there and playing the run. That allows the linebackers to run a little freer than in years past. We are playing better as a defensive unit and gang tackling."
The Flyers' front four consists of senior end Brandon Tantari, senior tackle Jacob Pack, junior nose guard Carl Brown and junior end Robby Vasquez.
"They've been working over a two-year period in the weight room to get bigger, stronger and faster, and that work is starting to pay off for them, Abbey said. "They have a year or two of experience. Jacob and Brandon were forced to play as sophomores, and that offseason of working hard has started to pay off."
Dual-threat junior quarterback Alan Martinez has completed 27-of-55 passes for 412 yards and two touchdowns, with six interceptions. He also has rushed 87 times for 437 yards and eight touchdowns, with one two-point conversion.
"He's starting to settle into his position a little bit," Abbey said. "We run a spread offense and a triple option also, so he has a lot to think about. Each game, each week he is getting more comfortable in that position as far as what we're trying to do and the defenses that we see."
Sophomore tailback Josh Tantari, who ran for career-high 186 yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries in last week's 44-14 rout of Otsego, has 259 yards rushing on 37 carries and has also caught eight passes for 123 yards.
Junior fullback Carl Brown (35 rushes, 250 yards), sophomore fullback Zach Sharpe and sophomore tailback Tim Lohmann round out the Flyers' backfield.
"Tim just started getting some playing time and Zach and Carl have done a nice job trading time," Abbey said. "We expect a lot from our fullbacks in isolation blocking and running. The fullbacks in the triple option have to be hard-nosed runners, and both of ours fit that bill."
Greg Grove is the Flyers' top receiver, with four catches for 144 yards. Ben Sample and Ryan Hotmer lead the team in tackles, with 39 and 38, respectively; Kurt McGee, Josh Tantari and Dylan Hirzel all have interceptions.
The Flyers' main concern on defense against Eastwood will be senior tailback Cody Seifert, who has rushed for 728 yards and 12 touchdowns on 66 carries (11.0 average).
"Seifert is a fantastic running back, and you have to try to account for that speed in a lot of different ways," Abbey said. "He made a couple of nice cutback runs against us last year and we didn't have good pursuit angles. Once he gets in a seam, he's gone."