It didn't take long for folks at Cabell Midland to realize that Luke Salmons was sticking to his guns, no matter what.
In his first two games as coach last year, the Knights ran the ball 56 times for 382 yards, then 51 times for 340 yards. The fact that they lost two nail-biters didn't diminish their commitment to the ground game.
Midland's players eventually seized momentum with the new game plan, ripping off five straight wins at one point and finishing with an 8-4 record and a spot in the Class AAA playoff quarterfinals. This year, the rush to glory has continued.
The Knights are one of three unbeaten AAA teams remaining in West Virginia, sporting a 5-0 record and the No. 1 spot in the playoff rankings at season's midpoint. Their 14.4 rating is a full 1.4 higher than any other school.
And they can heap most of the thanks onto a diversified running game that averages about 49 carries and 360 yards.
Three different running backs (Lowell Farley, David Gaydosz, Steve Matthews) have combined for nine 100-yard-plus efforts in a game so far this season, and one of the team's most talented runners, Kasey Thomas, just recently rejoined the squad following an injury.
"All these kids are working our scheme,'' said Salmons, the former Ravenswood and Marshall standout. "Every kid brings something different to the table. They're all doing their job well and fitting into what we're doing. They've all got a job to do, and it's blocking and running.''
Salmons, who won the Hunt Award as the state's top lineman at Ravenswood in 1998, came to Midland from Lawrence County (Ky.), where he learned his first high school coaching lesson the hard way in 2008.
"We were a spread team, and we had a very athletic quarterback who could run the spread,'' Salmons said of Chandler Shepherd, who ended up playing baseball at the University of Kentucky. "We were very competitive at times, but we didn't win a game. It came to the point where [Shepherd] got hurt and now we had a freshman quarterback who really didn't do the stuff the other kid could do.
"I realized then that in coaching, if you don't have an abundance of certain-type kids and a certain-type system, you're not going to be very successful. We had some good linemen who were tough and physical and played hard. We studied up, and took some stuff from other teams, even from Wayne, who did a lot of stuff we believed in, and mixed it together. The best thing about it is that we don't have to have that one [talented] kid - we're not going to fall apart if one kid goes down.''
After going 0-11 at Lawrence County in 2008, Salmons flipped it around to 12-1 the following year and his coaching career was off and running. In more ways than one.
He and his staff spent their first year at Midland fine-tuning the offense, and with the return of Thomas and Farley (the school's all-time rushing leader), and the addition of the elusive Gaydosz, a transfer from Winfield, they've struck gold this year.
Farley has run for 721 yards and seven touchdowns with four 100-yard games, Gaydosz has added 539 yards and six TDs with three 100-yard games and Matthews 333 yards and five scores with two 100-yard games.