DELTA — The first week of Mike Vicars' return to Delta's football practice field after being away for more than half a decade hasn't been an easy one.
"It really has been a grind," Vicars said.
Vicars turned the Panthers into a perennial Northwest Ohio Athletic League championship contender when he coached here from 1999-2006.
After taking over a program that finished 0-10 in 1998, his teams recorded a 62-29 record, captured three NWOAL championships, and earned six playoff berths, reaching the Division IV state semifinal in 2003.
The past is the past, and he is finding things much differently now with about 40 players in two-a-day workouts.
"It does seem like I've been gone for a little while," he said. "Most of the kids have different [last] names and they're from different families. It is different. It's starting all over again."
Starting over is nothing new to Vicars, whose head coaching resume includes Holgate, Ada, Hilltop, Delta, Genoa, and Delta again.
It almost included Clay, but after accepting the position earlier this year, Vicars had a change of heart and decided not to coach the Eagles.
Most recently he spent six years at Genoa. He stepped down to be an assistant last season but in his five years as head coach the Comets were 56-7 with four Suburban Lakes League titles and post-season play each season. During that time Genoa won 48 straight regular-season games.
At Delta, quarterback Noah Parsons is the only team member with any direct ties to teams Vicars coached in the past. Parsons' brother, Ryan, was a quarterback for Vicars.
It's not the same Delta program that Vicars left behind.
Nate Kmic, a running back who went on to play at Mount Union, isn’t around this time, nor are Vicars' sons (Ryan, Derrick, and Marcus). Derrick and Marcus finished their careers at Genoa.
The Panthers finished 2-8 overall in 2012. They came away 1-7 in the NWOAL, avoiding a winless league showing by defeating winless Swanton.
It's back to the basics.
For Vicars, who turns 50 in a few days, the emphasis is not only on sound blocking and tackling fundamentals, but working on the players' mental approach to the game.
"No. 1, we have to create a healthy football mentality," Vicars said. "We have to create a healthy football self-esteem.
"How do we feel about ourselves? Without a healthy football self-esteem you won't play as hard. When you do, you will go hard."
Vicars enters the season with cautious optimism.
"All of those things we did were in the past," he said. "People think I've got magic dust in my back pocket, but I really don't."
The days have seemed long this week for Vicars after his season as an assistant at Geneo. Returning as head coach, as well as a middle school principal, has led to a busier schedule.
It's right where Vicars wants to be at this time in his life.
"I wanted to move back to Fulton County," he said.
"I wanted to give back to a community that was really good to my family."