Sometimes, they worked harder. Other times, they shortened practices. Always, they pointed out their players' progress and promised better results.
But nothing Ridgewood coach Troy Cornwell's staff did to buoy its players' spirits was as effective as what happened Friday.
Despite missing two of its top offensive players, Ridgewood beat Gulf 24-16 to snap the county's longest losing streak at 13.
"I think with this win this week, the kids, their confidence is up quite a bit," assistant Gary Zimmerman said. "I think they're going to go into the rest of the games thinking they do have a legitimate shot at winning each and every game."
Freshman tailback David Williams rushed for 132 yards and three touchdowns, and freshman quarterback Charley Minichino threw a 15-yard scoring pass to help Ridgewood overcome the losses of Mike Galizia and Justin Pena, suspended four weeks for violating school rules.
Williams was something of a known commodity, having returned a kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown and rushing 13 yards for another in a 30-20 loss to Hernando the previous week. But until the Gulf game, when he ran 18 times, he had not carried so much of the load.
"With Mike Galizia taking most of the snaps, we really haven't had much of an opportunity to see David run with the ball each game," Zimmerman said. "Now we know he can handle it and he can step in for Mike whenever we need him to."
Minichino, who was not on the preseason varsity roster, was more of a surprise, running and throwing the ball without fear in his first varsity start.
"Charley has a tremendous amount of potential," Zimmerman said. "He just stepped right up on Friday night and showed us exactly what he's made of."
Ridgewood's defense showed similar backbone, forcing numerous three and outs. Personnel changes were key, as linebackers Brett Bachus and Chase Rice moved to tackle and end, and Williams and Andre Richard replaced Pena at cornerback.
"The kids put a lot of work in that week," defensive coordinator Tom Valenta said. "It was nice to see the hard work and everything we went through come out the way we had hoped. The kids stepped up and made the plays they were supposed to."
The turnaround didn't happen overnight. Zimmerman said he saw signs of the Rams' potential in earlier losses.
Ridgewood (1-2) fumbled seven times in a 42-11 loss to Hudson. The Rams outplayed Hernando for one half but could not overcome a first half in which they played tentatively after losing by 40 in 2003.
The losses, like the ones that preceded them, didn't get the players down. They continued to work hard and entered each game expecting to win. That they seldom did disappointed them but didn't break their spirit.
"The excitement they play the game with is really neat," Valenta said. "They enjoy playing. You can see that in practice, and you can see that in the game."
Now that they have something to show for their efforts, their approach remains the same.
"Their attitude is one game doesn't make a season _ win or lose," Zimmerman said. "So, they're going to have to go out each week knowing they're the underdog and going to have to go out and prove themselves each week."