Shaun Hayes had the urge to chuck the 2018 USA South championship ring sitting on his desk in the Maryville College woods a time or two during the offseason.
The ring represents the first outright conference title in program history, but it is also an object that breeds complacency.
“What you don’t want to have to do is constantly remind them that this is a new year,” Hayes told The Daily Times. “The ring was something special, and I want them to be proud of it and the experience we had, but I don’t want them to focus on the ring. I don’t want us thinking the expectations have changed because they haven’t.
“The process of how we go through it, how hard we do it and how much we care has always been the difference of how the process ends.”
The Scots opened fall camp Thursday in preparation for their upcoming title defense, which begins with a Sept. 7 meeting with Berry — the team that defeated them in their season opener and the first round of the NCAA Division III Football Championship last season.
Maryville reached that latter game by reeling off seven wins in a row after starting the season with a pair of losses by a combined 79 points. A cancelled matchup with Washington & Lee in between those two streaks provided an opportunity for the Scots to fix all the problems within their team.
The hope is it won’t take a string of losses for players to buy in to the process this time around.
The Scots new practice jerseys have “No Mercy” patches — an orange circle with a black fist in the middle — on the left shoulder, a constant reminder to keep up the “day-to-day dedication when nobody is forcing them to do it.”
“They have to show that they want this,” Hayes said. “It has nothing to do with our opponent, it’s 100% us. The great teams are run by the players, not the coaches.
“I’m trying to teach them that we need to enjoy that part of it because we’re doing what we were fashioned to do. (No Mercy is) not this attack and fight deal. It’s about battling yourself and investing and caring, not for ourselves but for each other and what we all want to go for together.”
None of that takes a backseat to competition, of which there is plenty.
Maryville returns more than half the starters on both sides of the ball, but those players have to earn those roles again. Every starting spot is up for grabs on a daily basis to keep all 98 players on the top of their game.
“That’s where complacency sets in,” Hayes said. “What you put into it is what you get out of it.
“As a staff, we’re fully committed to playing the person who cares and will fight — not the person who thinks they’re the best or the person who doesn’t think they have to work because there is nobody behind me because that person who put his heart and soul into it will fight when it gets hard.”
An NCAA dog tag graces the side of the Scots’ 2018 championship rings with the inscription “#BeADawg” — last season’s slogan — etched on the inside.
Time will tell if this year’s rallying cry will have the same impact, but if it does, Maryville may make some more history.
“Everybody is on your side when you win but start to lose and they’ll show you no mercy,” Hayes said. “We shouldn’t worry about what others think. This is the 2019 Maryville College football team, and no offense to anyone, but nobody understands that the way we do.
“We’re going to silence them with our constant work ethic and our willingness to fight for whatever is right. It’s going to be tough, but I’m very excited.”