Chris Eiswerth paused and looked into his players' eyes while delivering his inaugural speech as South Williamsport head coach.
His remarks were prepared but it was time to improvise. It was time to let his players know they had a chance to do something unique.
"This isn't for everyone guys," Eiswerth said. "You guys are special, so let's turn this thing around."
Then Eiswerth and his players went to work.
Starting that January day in 2011, Eiswerth instilled a ferocious work ethic in his players. They began seeing the results last year, making a two-win improvement and finishing 4-6. This year, they took another huge step forward. This year, everything came together.
The Mounties enjoyed their best season since 1997, going 10-2 while winning their first playoff game in 15 years and reaching the District 4 Class A championship. And while Eiswerth gives the players all the credit, one better believe he is a major reason South football is back.
Eiswerth has restored the luster to a proud program and his efforts have earned him the Sun-Gazette Coach of the Year Award.
"This year's seniors have really enjoyed the last two years with coach Eiswerth," senior offensive lineman Brock Steppe said. "He brought us back from the depths of Class A District 4 to being a powerhouse again in the district."
South lost only to Southern Columbia while beating six teams who downed it a year ago. It was a year where streaks of all kinds came to an end, starting in the season opener when the Mounties defeated Bloomsburg for the first time since 1996. A dramatic overtime win over Canton followed the next week and after two fourth-quarter comeback wins, South was off and running.
Along the way, South beat Hughesville for the first time since 2004, captured its first outright league championship (the NTL Small School) since 1999 and won 10 games for the first time in 15 years.
Eiswerth had South peaking at the perfect time, too. The Mounties won their final six regular season games and battered Sayre and Muncy in consecutive weeks, games that determined the NTL championship. South outscored its league opponents by a 25-point average, gained more than 300 yards per game and averaged more than 30 points per game. Its players dominated the league all-star team, putting first-teamers at nearly every position.
It was the culmination of relentless work the last two years. There really has been no offseason since Eiswerth took over and the hard work has paid huge dividends.
"Coach Eiswerth means everything to the program," Steppe said. "He got everything together, all the lifting programs, the speed training programs, and took us to different camps that have really helped us as players."
Everything Eiswerth instilled in his team and everything his team represented came shining through in a district semifinal rematch against Bloomsburg. Despite being the No. 2 seed, South was an underdog since Bloomsburg had beaten District 4 Class AA champion Danville and HAC-II champion Central Columbia in consecutive weeks. It also featured a 2,500-yard passer, one of District 4's all-time leading receivers and a stingy defense.
But Bloomsburg was no match for South.
The Mounties physically manhandled Bloomsburg, outhit the Panthers and romped to a 32-16 win. South allowed only 4 first-half yards and did not surrender a first down until midway through the third quarter. The offense, as it did all year, was vintage South with a physical running game overwhelming Bloomsburg.
All the while, a huge South crowd enthusiastically cheered and many came onto the field afterward to congratulate players and coaches. It was the kind of night the players had dreamed of experiencing. It was like old times.
And that is what Eiswerth has been hoping to rekindle.
"He was always on our backs trying to get the very best out of each and every player," Steppe said. "He never gave up on any of us."
Coach of the Year-Chris Eiswerth, South Williamsport
Runner-up-Justin Van Fleet, Loyalsock
Second runner-up-J.C. Keefer, Montoursville
Past Sun-Gazette Coaches of the Year
2011-Bruce Ransom, Bucktail
2010-Todd Tilford, Lewisburg
2009-Alex Jackson, Loyalsock
2008-Todd Tilford, Lewisburg
2007-Dick Delaney, Loyalsock
2006-Miller H. Moyer, Canton
2005-Rick Reichner, Hughesville
2004-Tim Welliver, Warrior Run
2003-Rick Reichner, Hughesville
2002-Scott McLean, Muncy