While growing up in Portsmouth in southern Ohio, Bruce Ward experienced what it was like to be a part of a community whose biggest events every fall often involved that week's high school football game.
Among his goals as the new coach at Gahanna Lincoln is to have its football program provide a similar sense of pride.
"I'm used to the community aspect of football and what football means to a community and the pride factor," Ward said. "I've been missing that to be honest. That's why I moved my family to Gahanna about nine years ago."
Ward, who spent the last 13 years coaching at Beechcroft, including the last five as its head coach, was announced as Lions coach Dec. 17.
After leading Beechcroft to a 37-14 mark that included two Division II playoff appearances, Ward was one of more than three-dozen head coaches who applied to coach a Gahanna program whose school has the highest male enrollment -- 879 boys -- in Franklin County.
Ward, who played and later was an assistant coach at Fairmont State before joining former Beechcroft coach Tom Dunlap's staff in 2001, believes he's inheriting a situation that can be turned around after the Lions went just 3-7 this past season.
He was just the third coach in Beechcroft history, after Andy Powell for its first eight seasons and Dunlap for the next 23.
"It's a great opportunity, a great community and a great program, and we've got to restore it," Ward said. "I'm definitely excited about it, but there's also a lot of work to be done. No disrespect, but it's definitely a better situation here from a football standpoint. Thirteen years is a long time to be at a place and just leaving those kids (at Beechcroft) was the toughest part, but coming to a program like this is a no-brainer.
"The amount of athletes here is outstanding. I've been in the playoffs with 30 kids, and I've met 30 kids just in the last 30 minutes (at Gahanna). One of the priorities will be to rejuvenate the youth program."
From 1995-2007 under Mike Lanza, Gahanna went 90-49 with six playoff appearances and two league titles. Lanza is the winningest coach in program history.
After John Snoad took over in 2008, the Lions had back-to-back 4-6 finishes and were 5-5 in 2010 before breaking through with a 9-3 finish and a Division I playoff berth in 2011.
Gahanna, which followed by going 7-3 in 2012, split its first six games this fall but lost its last four.
Snoad was fired at the end of the season after coaching the Lions to a 32-30 overall mark.
Under Ward, Beechcroft made the playoffs in 2011 and 2012 and earned at least a share of three consecutive City League-North Division titles from 2010-12. The Cougars went 6-4 this fall.
"He has a passion for football and an intensity of himself and the position," Gahanna athletics director Justin Sanford said. "He is disciplined and has a toughness that we feel is both needed and will resonate well with our players."
During a meeting with about 50 players Dec. 17, Ward asked how many of them wanted to win an OCC-Ohio Division championship, make the playoffs and win a state title.
After all hands were raised, Ward then asked how often they've been in the weight room since the end of the season.
"If you have those expectations, what are you doing to make yourself better?" Ward said. "Work ethic is the No. 1 thing, and it's not just about showing up. You have to work hard every day."
Junior running back Vasean Davis, who rushed for 560 yards and seven touchdowns this past season, was among those who acknowledged that much needs to be done to revitalize a program that has lost nine in a row to Pickerington Central and has gone 2-4 in its all-time series against Pickerington North.
"Probably everybody is really excited right now," Davis said.
"It's always really exciting when you can start over in a sense," junior linebacker Blake Baker said. "We've got a lot of work to do, but I think it's going to be a good year. There's a lot of stuff we need to change. I think (Ward) hit on a lot of important stuff that needs to change."