Any doubt Bob Casey may have about the area's desire for the Merced College football program to be successful has been stampeded into Madera County by the outpouring of well wishers after his hiring of former Patterson High head coach Rob Cozart as an assistant last week.
In one deft move Casey infused some much-needed youth and energy into his program as well as tapping into a football factory that's been feeding the Blue Devils' Northern foes like Modesto Junior College for decades.
Casey knew his grab would raise some eyebrows, but was caught a little off guard by the community's dramatic response.
He probably shouldn't have been.
The Merced area is desperate to see positive changes in the program.
Those who occasionally get to peek their heads behind the curtain saw dramatic improvements in a number of areas during Casey's first season as head coach. All the public really got to see, however, was the school's 13th consecutive season without a winning record.
Casey knows that his biggest battle as recruiter and coach is the school's recent history.
Next year's freshman class was five the last time the Blue Devils put a winning product out on the field, and odds are none of those players remember it.
When talking to local high school players and coaches, one of their biggest issues is that the Blue Devils haven't done much to distance themselves from the previous regimes.
So the Cozart hire is seen as a big step in the right direction.
"I think what people forget was I didn't have time to do anything with the staff last year," Casey said. "We made do with what we had.
"Our coaches work their butts off for little to no compensation, but we do have an older group of coaches.
"I felt it was getting a little top heavy and have been looking to add some young and energetic local guys.
"We're really excited to have Rob coming aboard. He's right on the same page with me as far as what we want to get done.
"He brings a lot of energy and now we have a connection to recruiting in the north Valley that we've never had.
"We know we have our recent history working against us, but I think people are starting to see that positive things are happening with the program.
"You can't control how people feel about you, and I'm not just going to make changes for the sake of doing things differently. But if there's something I can do to make us a better team and program, then I'm going to do it."
Cozart is just the first of what Casey hopes will be a handful of new additions.
The MC offensive coordinator position remains vacant and Casey would like to add a few more skill position coaches on offense.
"We don't have any on campus jobs to offer, so it doesn't make a lot of sense to go out and find someone from the Bay Area or somewhere else that someone would have to travel," Casey said. "We're looking for local guys that would like to try and coach beyond high school someday.
"I think we're just a couple additions away from a complete staff."
At the very least, the Cozart hire has created a buzz around the program. The rest of the offseason promises to be interesting, and we'll see if Casey can keep that interest going.
Sean Lynch is a Sun-Star sports writer. He can be reached at 385-2476 or via e-mail at email@example.com.