MUSKEGON HEIGHTS, Mich. — It's no secret the Muskegon Heights football program hasn't had an easy go over the past few seasons.
"They aren't really used to winning," said Damond Davis, a senior wide receiver and linebacker.
Davis transferred in from Muskegon during his sophomore year and knew the reality of where the program stood.
"They went on a losing streak, I remember them kind of falling down," Davis said about the stigma of the program as he came in.
Fellow senior Devin Cooper has experienced the same low expectations for the past three years.
"Nobody believed in us," Cooper added, "it was hard for me being a freshman and some of the seniors weren't really role models and leaders like they were supposed to be."
Van Parker took over the program in 2018 and knew it would be an uphill climb.
"It's the hardest it can get," he explained about his role, "obviously, you're trying to sell something that you really can't sell. We would have 12 or 13 kids and we were taking losses. Nobody was looking at the fact they were freshman and young guys, they were just looking at the fact we were losing."
Last season, after going a combined 1-17 in his first two seasons, Parker was confident his Tigers would turn things around.
"We had more players than we ever had, we had 35 or 40 come out last year," he added.
But the program was dealt another blow.
"We were ready for a great season but our school decided not to play sports because of COVID."
However, this fall, that turnaround has begun all led by the ten seniors.
"These freshmen are now seniors, so they went through the 0-9, 1-8 and then no year due to COVID, they've been through that struggle with me," he added.
On Saturday, the Tigers beat Holton at Phillips Field to pick up the program's first playoff win since 2010.
"I'm ecstatic," Parker smiled, "especially for these guys, knowing that your hard work does pay off."
It's a stark turnaround for the program that hasn't even to the playoffs since that season eleven years ago.
"I was excited, I was waiting for this for four years," Cooper smiled, "I was happy, we finally get to know what this is, to actually set something in stone and in history. I was so happy to be a part of it."
Parker led the Tigers to the state semifinals in 2009 as a player, and is now trying to create that winning culture once again.
"I'm just trying to recapture that feeling for the program and it's amazing. We have that opportunity right now, so I try to motivate them a bit," Coach Parker said.
And the players have bought in to him and the staff.
"My expectations are to win," Cooper added, explaining the change in mindset.
Just four years and three seasons in to his tenure, Parker is excited for what could lie ahead, both this season and beyond.
"Personally, I'm a winner, I'm always going to feel like I'm a winner regardless of what's going on. I'm always going to try to keep that winning mindset and attitude."
Mic'd up segments are back with Muskegon Heights head coach, Van Parker as the Tigers now prepare for the district final at Carson City. pic.twitter.com/4J9wXRAu42— Zach Harig (@FOX17Zach) November 2, 2021
The leadership of the senior group has the program setup for that success going forward.
"We just have to make sure that the people that are coming up for next year are seeing how we're doing it and seeing that we're being leaders and make sure they're on track," Davis said.
The Tigers will travel to Carson City on Friday night to take on the Eagles, looking to bring back the program's first district title in 12 years.