The playoffs have become the default destination for the Oregon Hawks during John Bothe's 15-year tenure.
But after six straight trips to the postseason – and 10 appearances in the last 14 seasons – Oregon was absent from the field of 256 teams.
For the past 10 months, the Hawks have been seething at the memories of 2012, a quiet determination bubbling up from the churning disappointment of a 2-7 campaign.
"We've all been super anxious since last season ended to get back out there and get going again," senior Sawyer Reynolds said. "We don't want to feel that again."
So hard work has been the status quo in Oregon since last October – and not just physically. The lessons learned through a season the Hawks don't want a repeat performance of have taken root in the minds of every player and coach.
"We learned last year that nothing is ever just given to you," senior Pierce Dhaese said. "Ever since we were young, it seems like the season has always ended in the playoffs. You dream about – and maybe even expect to, a little bit – be there, too … but we weren't last season, and it stings.
"But we can't let it get to us. We know what we have to do to change things this year, and we've put in a lot of extra work to make it happen."
Dhaese specifically points to several close losses a year ago as fueling the fire within. Four of the Hawks' seven losses were by two touchdowns or less, and game film revealed a few plays in each of those games that could have turned the 'L' into a 'W'.
"A play here or there can make all the difference," Dhaese said, "and we're going to have to use our talent and experience to find a way to come out on top. We make a few more plays, that changes your whole season … and maybe you're in the playoffs instead."
While bouncing back is in the minds and on the lips of every player and coach in the program, Bothe is also quick to point out that things won't be easy.
He especially points to the Hawks' tough schedule in the rugged Big Northern West as a big hurdle his team has to clear in order to turn things around and get back to the postseason.
"We'd like to bounce back, but it's not automatic," Bothe said. "It's not just going to happen; we learned last year that we can't just show up and expect to win. We're not going into this year assuming last season was our one off year, and we'll get it back on track just because."
The key, according to coach and players, is getting back to Oregon football. That means consistent execution on offense, being in the right spots and finishing plays on defense, and being hard-nosed and prepared on both sides of the ball.
"We have to be more physical, pound the ball on offense and hit hard on defense," Reynolds said. "We have to play faster, play with more energy, and just stay within ourselves and not try to do too much.
"The big key is putting last year behind us. This is a different team, and we're focused on what's ahead of us, not what's already happened, and I think we're ready to take a step forward again."
• The Hawks saw a streak of six straight playoff appearances snapped with last year's 2-7 record. Oregon has made the playoffs in 10 of coach John Bothe's 15 seasons.