Father Ryan football hasn't won more than 6 games in any given season since 2009.
If 2021 keeps going like it has, the Irish might be building on its best year in 12 years.
After blasting Brentwood in the Bruins' den and dominating a talented East Nashville outfit, Father Ryan heads into Friday's Bishop's Cup with Pope John Paul II with a chance to prove that 2020's upstart swing wasn't a fluke.
Of course, last fall saw the ascension of now-Appalachian State quarterback D.C. Tabscott, who surcharged the Irish offense to a 6-3 regular season record. The team fell in the first round of the playoffs to Memphis University School, but it etched in place a 5-game winning streak and optimism for the future of the program.
Junior running back Bryshon Jackson says he can feel the pendulum swing into a positive direction.
"Most definitely," he said when asked if he can see the program's momentum beginning to translate onto the field. "We've got a couple of new [guys on our] coaching staff, they came in and helped out."
That includes an NFL talent in former Titans starting quarterback Zach Mettenberger, who has joined the staff as an assistant coach.
Jackson rushed for two touchdowns in last week's win over Brentwood. When he was in eighth grade, Father Ryan dropped its game at BHS, who scheduled the Irish for its Homecoming game during the fall of 2018. Now, it's the Irish who is coming out on top.
The running back then saw a 2-8 season his freshman year, but Father Ryan has been on the upswing ever since. He says staying focused helps through the peaks and valleys.
"Every year, I try to get better," he said. "Even with the ups and downs, I still try to make sure that I'm here mentally."
Brian Rector is entering his sixth season on the sideline with the Irish, coming over from Centennial where, in 2015, he led that 12-2 team to the 5A semifinals, a playoff run it hadn't seen in its 19-year history.
Rector, who won a state title with a 14-1 Ravenwood team in 2005, is perhaps fielding the best Irish team he's had in his run with the school, at least a lot of Irish fans are surely hoping so after the team's strong two first weeks.
The Father Ryan coach, though, doesn't want to let a hope for improvement guide the team's direction, though; that's where work should do the talking.
"That's what we're working for," Rector said about the team's positive direction.
Rector spoke to how the culture has evolved over the years with the school.
"From a cultural standpoint, we're trying to obviously be more inclusive, we're trying to be tougher, we're trying to play to our strengths of our program, which right now is running the ball and offensive line," he said. "We have to continue to get better in the passing game. From week 1 to week 2, we sure did, and that's what we ask."
Rector compliments his team's effort as part of what's helping turn the program around after years of losing records, but he specifically mentions one event this summer that really stood out to him in the offseason.
"Our kids [make a huge difference], the way they come in and work on a daily basis," Rector said, "We did have some fun, competitive things that happened in 7-on-7 this summer...that's not football, but it was great to see the kids come together because that's what it's all about. Just seeing these kids come together to try to compete. The more and more we can be in tight games like [Friday's Brentwood game] and come out ahead, the more they're going to learn from them."
What was curious was the improvement the team made last fall during the COVID-19 pandemic, a tumultuous time where staying healthy and finding statis were challenges of themselves for teams across the country. The Irish, though, improved dramatically, in part thanks to Tabscott's rise.
"We just worked really hard," Rector said to what helped the team grow during that difficult fall, crediting his coordinators, players, staff and administration. "I would like to grow faster, like all coaches would, but at the end of the day, it's a marathon, not a sprint, and we're excited with what we can do, we've just got to get better."
Rector has been Jackson's coach since he started with the team. The junior says the coach creates a familial atmosphere, while expecting much from his players.
"I always say he's a hard coach, and he's always like family to me," Jackson said of Rector. "He always treats us like family...I'm really glad he's my head coach."
Quarterback Matthew Derrick, cousin of Nolensville head coach Paul Derrick, is filling big shoes this fall stepping in for Tabscott.
"The coaching staff's helped out a lot," Derrick said. "My preparation's helped out a lot...really, our team bonded. This senior group is something special...the togetherness of this team really helps out a lot. We've all got each other's backs."
The senior has the offense running well, and like his coach, feels that 7-on-7 tournament this summer really proved to be critical for the Irish's growth. At Riverdale, the team won its competition and gave the new QB some encouragement for the fall.
"After that, I kind of thought we'd be pretty good this year," Derrick said.
Having been with Rector his entire run, the QB says he can tell the changes that have been made since he arrived from Centennial, changes going from strength and conditioning to team identity.
"I think it's a whole different program," Derrick said of the changes made under Rector. "Everyone loves Coach Rector; everyone's got his back. There's just a culture of it, really."
The Irish face new competition this season after the regions realigned in D-II AAA. While they won't face an opponent like Brentwood Academy this year, challenging teams like Baylor, Knoxville Catholic, MBA, McCallie and, of course, archrival PJPII are all on the horizon.
The Father Ryan coach says he feels the fresh faces provide an uptick in preparation.
"This league that we are in...it's stacked," Rector emphasized. "It's absolutely stacked...[there are] no holes on the schedule...it really is a difference maker in preparation. So we've grown our roster numbers over the years from 59 to 102. And so that's made a big difference in our program, 59 to 102 in a five-year timespan. That certainly can help you in games like [Brentwood]."
The Irish know that they'll have to play to their potential as the region starts up Friday with PJPII, and they know the turnovers from Brentwood's win Friday can't come with them into the meat of their schedule. Though, to Rector, that's half the fun, the improvement.
"We have a lot of work to do, but you know, that's what we're here for," Rector said. "That's what's exciting about it, and that's why high school football is a challenge, especially when you play in our league."
Rector made a big jump when he came over from Centennial. Competition in Williamson County is some of the most staunch in the state, and going into the world of D-II AAA is about as tough, if not tougher some weeks.
For the coach, the people always make it worth it.
"A lot of people assume when you work at a private school, the best thing working at a private school is the fancy facilities and all that stuff. It's not," Rector explained. "It's not even close to the best thing about it. It's absolutely, 100% the kids that walk through those hallways, the faculty, staff members and administration that help us run that place.
"It's just a great place to be because of the people that are there. I mean, as far as I'm concerned, our motto is courage, commitment and character, and I think you see that every day out of everybody at our school."