Last season was a landmark year for California Pintos football, a step back to the future.
It was highlighted by a landmark win.
California 31, Blair Oaks 19 --- the Pintos' first win over the Falcons in nearly a decade.
"That was very important, because they have a good program and an awfully good football team," Pintos coach Marty Albertson said. "It seemed like we couldn't get over that hurdle.
"But last year, we finally did."
That was one of many high-water marks for the Pintos last season, who put together a sparkling 13-1 campaign.
"It's a grueling schedule, it's a lot of football and to go 13-1 against a lot of good teams, that was an awfully good year," said Albertson, who's in his third year at the helm.
And it marked a return to the glory days for California football.
Starting in the 1980s, the Pintos made 13 playoff appearances, including six straight from 1995-2000.
They were state champions in 1997 and state runners-up the next two years. In 34 years under Geary Labuary, the Pintos were a tidy 307-79.
But prior to last year, Pinto Pride had taken a hit --- just one playoff appearance since 2004. And that team finished the season 3-8.
In 2011, signs of progress, a 5-5 record. Then came last year's run to the state semifinals.
"Last year was really important, because we'd been down for a few years," Albertson said. "This is a football-prideful town; they've been to the summit, winning a state championship, and we'd fallen off that.
"The kids had to re-commit to being in the weight room and build themselves to be able to compete. Because all teams do that now and if you don't, you're going to be left behind.
"Now, I think the younger kids want to continue with that success. They're seeing that the hard work they put in pays off on Friday nights."
The Pintos (4-0, ranked No. 3 in Class 3 and No. 1 in KRCG's Middle School Power Poll) have gotten off to what you'd call a good start.
They've outscored their opponents 179-29.
"They've been playing pretty well," understated Albertson. "We've had a few kids change positions this year, but we're getting settled in. We're on a roll right now.
"We're back in that tradition mode. When the kids go on the field, they don't just hope to win, they expect to win."
It starts up front, as California's line is bigger than college lines were not that long ago.
"When I played in college, we had one tackle who was 275 and we thought he was mammoth," said Albertson, who played at Northwest Missouri State. "Our center was 210."
Across the front, the Pintos go 300, 245, 220, 225, 275 --- anchoring the line is 6-6, 300-pound senior Alexx Lewis.
"Kids are just bigger these days," Albertson said. "It's amazing."
Hunter Borghardt leads the team in rushing with 306 yards (11.8 avg.) and three touchdowns, while Seth Fairchild, a 5-7 170-pound senior, has gained 304 yards (11.7 avg.) with three scores.
"He's a small kid," Albertson said of Fairchild, "but that's a good thing. He hides behind those big offensive linemen and I don't people can see him until he's out in the open."
Junior quarterback Jaden Barr "has done a good job of running the offense," Albertson said.
You could say that --- Barr has rushed for four touchdowns, while completing a sharp 22-of-29 passes for 372 yards and five scores.
The team's leading tacklers are senior linebackers Jerry Lutz (36 total, 17 solo) and Scott Porter (19, 8), and senior free safety Dylan Albertson (19, 10) --- three of the Pintos' 14 seniors.
"We've got a good senior class and they've played together quite a while," Albertson said. "The whole class is contributing and that's what it's all about."
The Pintos will likely move to 5-0 on Friday night when they host struggling Southern Boone (1-3) at 7 p.m.
But lurking around the corner, on Oct. 4, is a date with Blair Oaks in Wardsville.
"We try to focus on one team at a time, but I'm sure some of the kids are thinking ahead a little bit," Albertson said. "After this game, we'll start thinking about Blair Oaks.
"That's going to be a good task for us. Hopefully, after last year, the kids have a little confidence and know they can go there and compete."
Rest assured, they can. And they will.