BENTON — There appears to be a light at the end of the tunnel for the Fairfield football program.
Second-year coach Matt Thacker had only 39 players at the end of last year's winless season.
That number has grown to 61 to start this year.
"We're talking to our kids and recruiting them," said Thacker, whose team was outscored 493-27 in 2018. "We're trying to get them excited about football. Things can change. We've yet to have 61 on the field at the same time because of injuries and family stuff.
"Expectations are changing and that's a good thing for us. The mindset for the kids has been pretty positive. It has been a good summer for us overall. We had 56 kids show up for summer workouts and we had good numbers in the weight room."
Because of the makeup of the roster, Fairfield won't have a junior varsity team.
"We have 22 freshmen so we'll have more of a C team," Thacker said. "The numbers when it comes to sophomores aren't where they need to be to have a true JV team. Hopefully, a C team with mainly freshmen and sophomores will work out and we'll have a few freshman games for the freshmen. But if things keep going in the right direction we should have games in all three levels next year.
"It's a building process and a journey. It's fun, even though you don't want to go through the torment of losing games and not scoring points. It's something you won't forget and we just want that to help us moving forward.
"Last year, we had the opportunity to play a JV schedule or varsity schedule. The coaching staff came together and felt that we needed a varsity schedule to help us get where we needed to be. The speed of the game is so much faster in a varsity game compared to a JV game."
Directing the team offensively will be junior quarterback Cory Lantz.
"I see a physical and mental maturity from Cory," Thacker said. "He understands the offense and is making the right reads on a much more consistent basis and believing in the offense."
Skill players that Lantz will get the ball to are junior fullback Carson Abramson, sophomore fullback Johnathan Estep, senior wide receivers Nolin Sharick and Justin Bontrager and junior wide receiver Colton Fisher.
Providing experience on the line are seniors Glen Tharp and Peyton Hendrix.
"It's nice to have seniors up there," Thacker said. "We have some younger guys we're hoping become varsity players for us in the middle part or later part of the year."
On defense, Fairfield is led by junior lineman Mike Stout, senior lineman Jonathan Ortiz, junior linebacker Dalton Cripe and Sharick at safety.
"I'm excited to watch Sharick at safety," Thacker said. "He's had a very good camp and looked good in the summer."
Fairfield will have two new opponents on its schedule, as Osceola Grace replaces NorthWood in week two and Fremont replaces Culver Military Academy in week four.
"We had to make changes with the numbers being what they were," Thacker said. "We made positive changes for us. We'll re-evaluate it in a couple of years and see if we need to adjust our schedule. You want to be pushed and you want to have a competitive opportunity. You want to give yourself a positive experience and not go out and face a tough task and feel like you have your arm tied behind your back."
Thacker is looking forward to the Friday night when he picks up his first win as coach.
"We have to figure out how to win a game," Thacker said. "Last year in the first and second quarter we were looking up at a mountain to climb. What are we going to do this year when a team scores on us first? We'll see what happens when the lights go on for real.
"If you ask my wife, patience is not my virtue. Now would be the perfect time to get things turned around. In reality, I don't know if it's going to happen now. In college, you can recruit and win faster. In the NFL, you can get free agents and draft and win faster. That's not the case for a small school like us in northern Indiana. We have to recruit our kids and coach them up as best as we can and develop a program and see where it takes us. Sometimes, it takes three, four or five years to turn around a program. If your doing the right things and keep getting the numbers up good things will come."
2018: 0-9 (0-4 NECC Big)
Aug. 23: Goshen
Aug. 30: Osceola Grace
Sep. 6: Central Noble
Sep. 13: at Fremont
Sep. 20: West Noble (C)
Sep. 27: Angola (C)
Oct. 4: at Garrett(C)
Oct. 11: at Lakeland (C)
Oct. 18: Churubusco