The Bucklin Red Aces football team has two goals this season: Beat the teams they are supposed to beat, and keep all the other games competitive.

That might sound obvious, maybe even cliche.

But for a team that went a combined 0-43 over the five seasons from 2009-2013, being consistently competitive is the next step in changing the way Bucklin football does business.

Although the team is extremely young, but it also has some leadership going into this season.

“For the first time in some years, we do finally have some upperclassmen with some leadership, so I’m really looking forward to seeing how that plays out and in some key positions: A couple of good leaders on the line, a couple of good leaders in the skill positions,” Bucklin head coach Brad Estes said. “I’m excited about what that might turn into.”

The culture has indeed begun to change. The team won a game in 2014, won twice in both 2015 and 2016, and won once last year.

Experiencing even that much success has started to help the players attitudes change, Estes said. The stigma of being the team that hasn’t won a game in so many years is now gone he said, and nobody really thinks about that or talks about that any more.

“I guess the mental change is we’re actually looking forward and not backwards and we’re not having to justify our past anymore,” Estes said. “Everybody’s just kind of looking forward to the next thing, and now we’ve got some kids in school who have been through youth and junior high leagues who have won championships, who have won a number of games on different levels and who are expecting to win now.”

The difference between athletes who have struggled to find success, and those who are used to expecting it is massive.

“It’s a 100 percent difference,” Estes said. “It’s two totally different players on absolute opposite ends of the spectrum, because the kids who had never won anything, often times you run into a thing where the other team puts up a score or two on you early and they would just hang their heads and not really respond in the way that you’d like them to. The kids who are used to winning and expect to win, who have been through programs like that, they just see it as ‘OK, that’s fine, that’s an obstacle we have to overcome but nothing’s really changed and this is still winnable’.”

That effect can even carry over into a person’s life off the field, Estes said. If you spend a lot of time around kids who have been through both, he said, the difference even in the energy of their step is completely different.

“When you’ve got a team like this, they are so much more willing to buy into the team concept and work hard, I mean really hard, side by side,” Estes said.

And that’s where sports intersects with life at a bigger level.

“We talk about this all the time is that if you’re really gonna be a winner, not just in football but in everything you do, you’ve gotta take on an enormous load, more that the average person would,” Estes said. “Winner always want more, and that’s really kinda what we talk about a little bit.”

The Red Aces open up their season with a game at home in week against the South Central Timberwolves on Aug. 31.