Bassett won just one game in Brandon Johnson's first season as head coach. Last season, the Bengals won three games, including upsetting Smith River rival Magna Vista in Ridgeway at "The Hole."

That was a step in the right direction, but the Bengals are now onto 2019 and Johnson said they eye more than just a few wins.

"Our guys are hungry. They want more. Beating Magna Vista, that was good and all for us, but we want more. Our guys want more," Johnson said at 7-on-7s Tuesday. "We were 29 points away from being 7-3, and the guys know that. We were a few turnovers here and there from being a .500 ball club potentially in the playoffs, so that's why we're focused on finishing. Finishing games, finishing tackles, finishing routes, finishing throws, finishing everything. Everything is about finishing."

That message is felt most in the weight room. Without the benefits of putting the pads on and actually playing four quarters of football, Johnson and his coaching staff preach finishing in the areas they can control, one of which is in the weight room.

"We're focusing on mental toughness through our workouts. Everything is based around being mentally tough," he said. "Get in the last rep. Okay, that was the last rep. Do one more. Let's go a little further."

The other area Johnson has spent a lot of time with his team has been in educating his players on the whys of the game.

"We're doing a lot of classroom stuff now. We're teaching the kids how to watch film, teaching the kids why we're running the plays we're running, why we're doing the offense we're doing, and we're focusing more on the why as far as football goes, and life as well," Johnson said. "We're asking a lot of questions this summer... and it's been really good for us. We've got a lot of younger guys. A lot of young guys are seeing a lot of growth because they're starting to understand the game of football."

And Johnson is also seeing the birth of new leadership on the team, and not all from players he expected, which is crucial when replacing a crop of senior leaders from last season.

"Losing the senior we lost... they were very high-character guys. Losing that and trying to figure out who is going to step in and be those guys this year. I've seen a lot of growth in a lot of guys I would've never thought," he said. "That's been a huge impact for us."

The Bengals hope all of this growth will carry over to when the pads go on in just a few more weeks.

Chris Doherty is a Sports Reporter for the Martinsville Bulletin. Contact him 276-638-8801 ext. 215. Follow on Twitter @BulletinSport

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