CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- At the time, Capital's early exit in last year's Class AAA playoffs did indeed sting. But it also helped the youthful Cougars realize where they must improve to take the next step.
A 42-23 home loss to Musselman in the first round - a game in which the Applemen churned out 317 rushing yards - certainly got Capital's attention during the off-season, and perhaps spawned a new attitude in the program's new weight room at Laidley Field.
"They just whipped us on the line of scrimmage last year,'' said Cougars coach Jon Carpenter, who begins his fourth season. "It's never good to get whipped like that, but it was good for us. We started two freshman guards [against Musselman].
"I told everyone we preach all this stuff about the weight room, but when you get whipped a couple times [it sinks in]. Hopefully that was beneficial for us.''
The team's weight room, which opened over the winter, seems to have especially made a difference in the preparation of Capital's linemen.
"Obviously, the offensive and defensive lines are the things that take a little bit longer to get together,'' Carpenter said. "These guys have changed their body types and have gotten a lot stronger. For the first time, I feel like we've been pretty good up front.''
That should complement the team's strong point from last year, which was play at the skill positions with quarterback Tyhree Pratt (now a sophomore), running backs Kashuan Haley (junior) and James Richmond (senior) and receivers Cliff Pratt (senior) and Tyrell Davis (junior).
Carpenter singled out senior linemen James Walton, Jaisson Dyer and Khalil Bush and sophomore Savion Brown as those who have "spearheaded'' the commitment to the weight room to prepare for the coming season.
"Everyone writes about the guys who score touchdowns - the tailbacks and quarterbacks,'' Carpenter said, "and those skill guys show up and make a difference right away, but we've got guys from the line of scrimmage all back from last year. I think Dyer and Walton and Bush are as good as anybody around. Those guys have lifted weights and got themselves ready. It's good to see those guys excited.''
Carpenter said last year's first-round playoff ouster seems to have motivated his team to make amends.
"This is the most excited we've been,'' he said. "We've got a bunch of guys growing up, lifting weights and doing the things they need to do to be good blue-collar guys. We've recreated the old way of doing things at Capital, and it's nice to see the guys having fun.
"One of the things everybody used to say about Capital is that 'those kids don't lift weights hard.' But that's tough to do when you don't have a weight room. So now we've got one and the kids are really getting into it.''
Reach Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or rickr...@wvgazette.com.