St. Helena High’s JV football team is off to an impressive 4-0 start this season with home wins over Drake, Kelseyville and Lower Lake, coupled with a road victory over Cloverdale.

The sense of optimism and enthusiasm surrounding the program is truly palpable, and it is a welcome change for a team that compiled a 1-9 record a year ago.

The Saints’ hot start has coincided with the arrival of Ian MacMillan, head coach. MacMillan, who led the varsity team from 2004-06, has been the catalyst for a cultural change that has affected the program at every level.

“I think ... how he coaches, he goes into a lot more depth in everything and all of our footwork,” sophomore quarterback Jake Mendes explained recently when describing MacMillan’s meticulous attention to detail. “He points out everything on film. So we pretty much have to do everything perfect for him.”

That sentiment was echoed by sophomore offensive lineman Ryland Campos.

“This year it’s really about the small things,” Campos explained. “Last year, there were so many more problems and, now that we’re actually better, we can focus on the small things that are going to help us compete against other teams.”

And sophomore running back Cody DiTomaso, the primary cog in a punishing running game which has been an essential ingredient in the Saints’ early-season success, said MacMilllan has infused the entire team with a level of confidence that was missing last year.

“Since he’s had success in the past here, I think it has given us a little bit of confidence in that it makes us want to be better because – last year – it’s not a good feeling going 1-9,” DiTomaso explained. “So it gives us more motivation to try harder and do everything to the fullest.”

MacMillan acknowledged instilling that collective confidence in the team was the biggest challenge facing he and his coaching staff at the start of the season as they began the process of changing the culture of the program.

And while the coach is pleased with his team’s progress, he’s keenly aware there remains room for improvement and plenty of work to be done with the balance of the season still to play.

“I think we’ve gotten better each week,” MacMillan said. “I don’t do so much focusing on the scoreboard or wins and losses. Are we getting better at things that we’re practicing? Are you using your technique? Are you getting off the ball? Are we being aggressive? Are we communicating? And I think they’re getting better each week.

“We’ve had some lapses here and there in some quarters,” MacMillan continued, “but they’re getting better. From Drake to now, they have gotten better and started to believe in the process and understand what they need to do to get better each and every week.”