Less than four months before their season was due to begin, the Mountain View football team was adrift in an uncertain sea of turmoil.
Their leader, Bernie Busken, was under fire for questionable coaching methods.
Their administration was being vilified for having allowed such methods to thrive.
Their assistant coaches were at odds with one another over the direction of the program, and the football community — a giant rudder of stability for a quarter century — was divided into two camps, taking shots at one another through the media.
"We were always taught to stick together as a team," running back Shane Parra said. "When all of that happened we were pretty worried about the program."
Many of the players rallied behind Busken, who had some help from loyal boosters like Tim Thompson.
"Tim Thompson was telling all the young guys coming up to go home and tell their parents what a great guy Coach Busken was," center Hunter Brady said. "He was basically brainwashing kids to tell parents what he wanted them to think."
But nothing could save Busken or the old ways. Within a month, he was dismissed from coaching by Mesa Public Schools and Tom Joseph had taken the wheel, bringing a new philosophy to the field and the locker room.
"We were pretty skeptical at first," Parra admitted. "A lot of guys felt really strongly about Coach Busken and didn't want to see him go."
Added Brady: "Coach Busken had promised a lot of guys playing time, so when Coach Joseph came in, those guys were worried about his new offense and if they'd be playing in it."
Joseph understood it would take time for his team to make the transition.
"They were a tight group because of everything that had happened, but eventually the kids bought into what we were doing and they accepted it even though it was new for them," Joseph said. "It helped that we got off to a good start and put up some points in our first two games, but I never felt unwelcome with the kids. There were some questions and I think justifiably so. But after we sat down and set goals we knew we had to work together to accomplish them."
They did. Despite a chorus of detractors who said the Toros would not succeed without Busken, Mountain View went 14-0 and shattered several records on its way to the 5A state title.
"When I look at it now, I think Coach Joseph was a good choice for our team," Parra said. "Once he became our coach we started playing with confidence because we weren't afraid of making mistakes any more."
Added Brady: "In the past, football had always been a chore for me — a job. This is the first time I can say I really had fun playing football. Our entire team had fun."