EWING, Mo. -- The aesthetics have changed around the Highland football program.
The hope is it impacts the performance as well. Cougars coach Dave Degarmo is quite certain it will.
"The players are seeing the school is buying in to helping them become better athletes, not just in football, but in track and other sports," Degarmo said when discussing the artificial turf field and new track installed during the offseason.
"It's a nice shot in the arm for everyone."
It's not the only reason for optimism.
Degarmo and his staff believe the collection of athletes they've assembled and the amount of speed they are able to inject at positions all over the field will have a significant impact.
The Cougars are coming off a 1-9 season, but they return all but one starter and are blessed with a number of three-sport athletes, including a wealth of runners from the track team.
"We have a pretty good track team," Degarmo said. "We reap the benefits of that."
No one reaps the benefits more than Drew Mallett, the sophomore quarterback who should have plenty of speedy options at his disposal. The 6-foot-1, 170-pound Mallett completed 58 percent of his passes last season, and he will have seniors Kaden Koch and Dylan Schroeder and sophomores Brandon Holder and Justin Hawkins snagging passes this fall.
The key to it all is protection, something a line anchored by Rowdy Kindhart and Elijah Mead is continuing to improve doing.
"I thought our offensive line looked really good at the (Quincy University) team camp," Degarmo said. "We did a great job run blocking, and it translates well to everything else we ask them to do."
Having discovered depth up front, the Cougars expect to be able to rotate players along both the offensive and defensive lines and avoid too many guys going both ways.
"It'll be nice to let them catch their breath," Degarmo said.
The Cougars allowed 41 points and 300 yards rushing per game last season, but a better understanding of the defense and the return of Mead, Koch and Robert Goehl at linebacker should allow Highland to improve those numbers significantly.
"We've taken a lot of steps in the offseason to tweak what we do and position ourselves better for success," Degarmo said.
The biggest thing the Cougars did was put the past behind them.
"We've focused on the future, focused on improving, focused on winning," Degarmo said.
Inside the huddle
Who: Highland Cougars
2018 record: 1-9 (0-7 Clarence Cannon Conference).
Coach: Dave Degarmo (2-18 at Highland, third season).
Players to watch: QB Drew Mallett, 6-1, 170, Soph.; WR/LB Kaden Koch, 6-1, 165, Sr.; OL/LB/P Elijah Mead, 6-0, 195, Sr.; OL/DL Rowdy Kindhart, 6-0, 270, Sr.
Schedule: Aug. 30 vs. Clark County; Sept. 6 vs. Macon; Sept. 13 at Monroe City; Sept. 20 vs. Centralia; Sept. 27 vs. Palmyra; Oct. 4 at Brookfield; Oct. 11 vs. West Hancock; Oct. 18 at Knox County; Oct. 25 at South Shelby.