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May 22—Muhlenberg County High School football coach Josh Staples is convinced that his team will be at its best when the Mustangs play to their true identity — blue-collar, hard-working and relentless.

Staples saw some of that at the end of a COVID-19-shortened 2020 season, and he saw more evidence of it during the program’s recent spring session — providing him encouragement for 2021.

“My biggest takeaway from the spring was seeing a bunch of guys out there anxious to get going again — guys who were energized by the growing sense of normalcy and relief,” Staples said. “On an average day, had 36 or 37 kids out here and they were excited to be here — that’s what we’re looking for.”

The Mustangs split time between T-shirts and shorts and helmets and pads, with very little contact.

“Our focus during the spring was getting our kids acclimated back into the program,” Staples said. “I think we ended last season with a little momentum and we want that to carry over into the upcoming season.”

Indeed, Muhlenberg County struggled to score in its first five games — all defeats — but rallied at the end of the season to shut out Ballard Memorial (46-0) and knock off Fulton County (27-14); both wins coming on the road.

“We got better over the course of the season because we simplified the offense — we got better at what we could do well, and I thought that showed up in our performances at the end of the year,” Staples said. “We broke it down to improving on our fundamentals and I thought we made some solid improvement late in the season.”

Leading Muhlenberg’s spread offense will be rising senior quarterback Trevor Nolen, with backup help from incoming freshman Kanyon Johnson and rising junior Kayne Bivins.

“I’m encouraged about what Trevor can do for us,” Staples said. “He has the experience to play the position at this level, and he’s had a really good offseason in terms of being in top physical condition. Also, defensively, he’ll be one of the top linebackers in the area.”

Others Staples will be relying heavily on include twins Nick and Cameron Slack, rising junior linemen; rising senior lineman Patrick Wood; and rising sophomore running back Eli Hawkins, who saw a lot of action as a freshman.

“Eli has really come on,” Staples said, “and we’re going to need as much as we can get from him.”

Ultimately, however, Staples and his staff will be employing a team approach — with all hands on deck — to spur the Mustangs to success in the fall.

“We don’t have any true speed-burners, so we have to rely on effort and hard work every day,” Staples said. “We’re going to have to grind some clock to be competitive and win football games — there isn’t a great margin for error with our team, and we need to fully understand this.

“Having said that, I really like the mindset of our players. We’re in a position where we want to put all excuses behind us and be the very best version of ourselves that we can be — that’s at the heart of Muhlenberg football, and that’s what it will take for us to have success on the field.”