By MAT MIKESELL
Herald-Whig Sports Writer
There was a time when the Milan football team didn't rule the roost in the Tri-Rivers Conference.
It really wasn't that long ago.
"They weren't good at all when I played," said Scotland County coach Daniel Burns, who played at Putnam County from 2001-04. "(Milan coach John) Dabney has just had success turning in the numbers and making it a football town."
It's made Milan the team to beat in the league, too. Milan has won 15 straight TRC games, sweeping the league race each of the past three seasons.
"They had really good athletes," North Shelby coach Todd Cripe said. "They had some really skilled kids running the Wing-T, and they're well-coached. When you put those two things together, good things happen."
The rest of the TRC is trying to do the same. Three teams -- Scotland County, Knox County and Putnam County -- each went 3-2 in the league last year and return some of the league's most talented players in the likes of Scotland County's Will McRobert and Jade Holt and Knox County's Brady Moubry.
"We're getting closer," Burns said.
Those teams might have the firepower to close the gap this fall.
Last year, Milan outscored Knox County and Scotland County by a combined 65-12. Don't expect that to happen again.
"I think you're looking at those three teams being at the top along with Milan," Cripe said. "By the end of the season, Milan is going to be a good ballclub."
To beat the powerhouse team, it takes a near-perfect game. But that doesn't mean it's a complicated gameplan.
"We just have to read our keys," Burns said. "You have to be disciplined on defense or you'll be outnumbered. If that happens, it'll be a long night."
What Milan doesn't have over its conference opponents is the intimidation card.
"They weren't this big scary team when I played," Burns said. "So I try to get through to my players. We've talked about knocking them off because we're tired of them winning and it's time for someone else to win."
If this season turns out to be a three- or four-team race for the TRC crown, it'll be a positive for the league.
"It absolutely helps," Cripe said. "But even when Milan was heads and tails above everyone else, the other schools were bettering themselves. It makes the other coaches work harder and prepare harder for every game. If you don't things will look ugly on Friday."