KINGWOOD, W.Va – Since making the playoffs in 2019, the last two years for Preston High football have not been quite as successful.

With a 1-8 finish last season, Mark Deep’s tenure as head coach of the Knights begin under inauspicious circumstances but hopes are high for what Preston may be able to do under his leadership.

That all started with an important move this offseason to help the team prepare for the season a little bit better.

“We went and got a strength coach. The kids have done a great job in the weight room. I think we have four kids right now that can bench over 300 pounds so it’s working,” he said, “We increased our bench press by an average of 60 pounds in 12 weeks so the strength program, it’s going to do wonders for the program. The kids have bought in.”

The Knights have made major strides through the offseason and feel like they have a chance to make serious improvements in the win column this season.

The effects of the changes that deep has been able to make from the top down are already being felt by the players.

“It’s just better than every other year I’ve played. Honestly, we’ve got new coaches. They’ve learned a lot from last year. Got a new strength and conditioning coach, the best ever,” senior Ethan Harper said, “That’s just how it is, the best ever and we’ve put in so much work this offseason so we’re ready to get at it.”

The improvements for the program under the new head coach go beyond just the preperation on the field too. In a program that has dealt with conflict and attrition in recent years, the Knights are coming together as more than just a football team when they get together.

“In previous years we’ve had more conflict but this year I don’t think there’s really anybody that doesn’t like anyone or doesn’t get along together and they’re all wanting to get together and do stuff which I’m really excited to do,” senior Trait Lobb said, “I feel like it’s a really good opportunity to set Preston straight.”

It’s becoming clear rather quickly on the field that the improved relationships between teammates off the field is going to lead to better performances once the Friday night lights turn on.

“The team chemistry, team chemistry, we’re a family, we are truly,” Harper said, “Everything just clicks so much better and I think we’re smarter, better playmakers. All around just better playmakers and our mental IQ.”

While there are high hopes for the steps the program is making, Deep does understand that it is still a work in progress. Preston put a high number of young players on the field last season and with many of them back, he believes his team is better for it because they’ll be prepared to hit the gound running this year.

“They found out what Triple-A football’s about last year and I think that was the drive in the weight room and in the offseason,” Deep said, “Where did we lack indivdually? and a lot of it was strength and we’re starting to build strength here at Preston.”

The Knights hope they have a bright future but there is still a season to be played for in the coming weeks. Deep is making sure his guys have their focus on what’s right in front of them and wants them to look ahead to what’s next after that comes and goes.

“Everyone asks, ‘who on your ten game schedule are you looking forward to?’ and really it’s the first one. It should be the first one for everyone,” he said, “We can’t look past anybody. Hampshire is circled and then we’ll circle North Marion after that. It’s an old coach’s thing. One game at a time but the first one is always the most exciting one.”

Preston gets its 2022 season underway on August 26, hosting Hampshire.