HOWARD CITY, Mich. — The Tri County football program won two playoff games last season for the first time in school history.
Now, the expectations are on the rise with a whopping 18 starters returning for the Vikings, one of the highest, if not the highest, totals in West Michigan.
"This year it's like alright now we have to do something to be better than last year, we have to one up last year," said senior quarterback, Tyler Tompkins.
Despite being an eight-seed in their district last postseason, the Vikings had no problem beating Central Montcalm and Grant to advance to a district final, which was a huge accomplishment for the program.
"Getting there and winning a game and then winning the second game was absolutely huge," said head coach, Phil Butler, "it sprung us into the offseason and our confidence right now is pretty good."
The Vikings program has finished with a record of .500 or better just once since 2006 which came back in 2018 when the team finished 5-5.
This year, expectations are on the rise throughout the community, which is unchartered territory for the players and coaches.
"We haven't done anything like this in forever," Tompkins added, "it's mind-blowing, we've never had this kind of pressure on us. I wouldn't say it's pressure though because we're loving every minute of it."
While it was one of the most successful seasons in program history, Butler says it's time to turn the page and build on it.
"Yes we won two playoff games for first time in two school history, but it's over with," Butler explained, "doing that last season isn't going to win us a game this year. We had to have a great off-season and we did that, we had a great winter and summer."
The next milestone to cross off of the list is a conference championship, which hasn't happened at Tri County since 2003.
Now in year number ten at the helm, Butler says he's having serious conversations with his players about accomplishing that this fall.
"We've talked a little bit about that, seriously about winning a league title, but obviously Reed City is the team to beat," added Butler, a team the Vikings haven't beaten since that season back in 2003.
The 18 starters returning includes Tyler Tompkins who was injured most of the 2021 season but returned in the playoffs to help lead the Vikings to the two postseason wins.
Those returning players have been working hard all off-season to keep the momentum rolling within the program.
"All winter, every guy was there at workouts," Tompkins added, "we never had a dull moment, it's been crazy, it's been a movie moment."
Butler says he's just flat out having fun coaching this roster right now.
"We're loaded talent wise which is a great thing, we have competition but character wise this is by far the biggest character guys that we've had, it's just fun to be around these guys."
The players are saying they're confident but not cocky or overconfident going into this fall.
"There's something in the air," said Nate Lovell, the team's senior runningback and linebacker, "a lot of people are expecting us to bring home a title for our school and we haven't had one since the 2003 season. We have a target on our back, I really believe we do."
Tri County will kickoff the 2021 season at home when they host Lakeview on Friday, August 27.