There’s a feeling of excitement running through the halls at Mound Westonka this fall. The reason is something not often heard at this school of 600: the football team. The White Hawks are an unexpected 8-0 and the trickle-down effect has become more like a flood.

Lockers are being decorated. Hugs are common, backslaps even more so. School spirit is peaking. Who says football is a dying sport? It’s certainly made this fall a lively one in Mound.

“There is really a lot of pride in the school now,” senior linebacker Alex Wells said. “Before [our] homecoming game, I actually saw people tailgating in the parking lot. It’s awesome to see that kind of support.”

Considering the program’s past, the White Hawks’ season has been jaw-dropping. Before this year, they had not won more than two games in a season — often fewer — in 15 years. The last time they finished a season above .500 was in 1980, only days before Ronald Reagan was elected president.

This year, however, they’re racking up victories with an Eden Prairie-like decisiveness. All have been by at least 21 points. Four have been shutouts. They’ve scored 47 or more points three times with an average margin of victory of slightly more than 36 points.

“We went into this season thinking we would be pretty good,” third-year coach Nick David said. “Although it may have happened a little sooner than we thought.”

The architects for the White Hawks’ turnaround were David, a former player at Gustavus, and his assistants. Where other coaches battled the past, David saw potential for the future. A new weight room was built. A sophisticated defensive system was implemented. Preparation was stressed. Making sure the players believed in themselves became a priority.

“Our talent level isn’t that different from most of the other teams in the Wright County,” said David, referring to the rough-and-tumble league in which the White Hawks had toiled until this year. “Our kids bought into what we were doing.”

The biggest reason for the surge has been the defense. The White Hawks routinely present multiple fronts and disguised coverages to baffled opponents. Creating turnovers is emphasized. This is no run-of-the-mill high school defense.

“These are really smart kids,” he said. “They’ve been in our system for a while now and they understand what we’re trying to do. We’ve forced 40 turnovers this season. They take a lot of pride in what they do, and it’s been fun to watch.”

In a recent game, Breck offensive players were stunned by what they heard. Mound Westonka defensive players were calling out the upcoming plays before the Mustangs could run them.

“Austin Kincade, one of our cornerbacks, called out every route they were going to run,” junior running back/linebacker Isaiah Cherrier said. “We knew exactly what they were going to do. You could tell it was demoralizing.”

Mound Westonka won that game 47-0 and followed up with their biggest victory of the season, a 28-6 win at Minneapolis Henry. Both teams were undefeated at the time. “And I don’t think we had the best game we could have had,” Wells said. “We were inside their 15 [yard line] three times and didn’t score. We figured out that we could play with just about any team you put in front of us.”

Still, there are a few in the community who aren’t sure how good this team really is. Some point to the switch to district scheduling, which removed Mound Westonka from the Wright County Conference. The players hear that as a challenge.

“With the talent we have and the swagger we’re getting, I would like to play some of those Wright County teams this year,” Cherrier said. “I think we can beat any team in Class 4A.”

For now, the White Hawks are enjoying their success without letting it go to their heads. The past is still too fresh.

“My older brother Michael played quarterback for this team,” senior cornerback Wilson Priefer said. “He plays at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire now. I can tell he’s pretty jealous.”