For 16 years, Lancaster entered its first official practice of the football season with one objective – put it in the work necessary to win the Section VI championship.
As the Legends prepare for the coming season, hitting the field early Monday at the Len Jankiewicz Athletic Complex behind their high school, they're kind of in unfamiliar territory because the objective has changed.
They're no longer hunting. The Legends are the defending Class AA champions – the team that now has a bull's-eye on its back after capturing the crown at New Era Field to highlight a 10-1 campaign, resulting in the No. 2 ranking in the final Buffalo News Large School poll.
The goal is still to put in the work necessary to win but this time it's to stay ahead of the competition because Lancaster will get the best its opponents have to offer each week, beginning with its Week One opener at home against Bennett – last year's Class A champion who now finds itself in the same division with the Section's big schools.
"I always think it's harder for the kids to deal with success than adversity," said second-year coach Eric Rupp during the first of two Legends practices. "When everyone is coming for you, you can't take your foot off the gas for one minute."
While Lancaster lost a few key contributors to last year's team, including first team All-Western New York receiver Leugim Castillo and second team All-WNY running back Zack Samborski, the cupboard is far from bare. The Legends are an athletic group with several returnees having a unique approach to preparing to bring it every week.
"Over half of our roster plays multiple sports," said Rupp, whose team did win the 7-on-7 passing tournament at Lancaster last month. "Even all summer, they were constantly competing and staying in shape."
That includes returning first team All-WNY defensive back/receiver Max Giordano, the Niagara University baseball commit, along with linebacker Ben Damiani, who also plays baseball. Joe Andreesen is a standout football player and wrestler.
Ryan Mansell returns as quarterback. Mansell, a member of the basketball team that took second at sectionals last winter, looks to build on a standout junior season in which he passed 19 touchdowns and nearly 2,000 yards while amassing a completion percentage near .630.
"You just can never be satisfied," Rupp said. "We have to keep climbing the mountain."