After looking forward to it for so long, Butch Henderson can't believe the first Wayland Baptist University football season in 72 years is already over.
"It flew by," Henderson said. "It seems like yesterday I was thinking about two-a-days."
The coach said that when something passes so quickly like the Pioneers' football season did, "It's usually an indication things are going well." And for the most part, Henderson said, they did, although he indicated he would have liked to have chalked up a few more victories along the way.
While many people might deem a two-win season for a start-up college football team featuring almost all freshmen a success, Henderson only partly agrees with that.
"Our expectations were to win. We're very gracious to have the two wins, but we expected to win a lot more than that," he said. "Those were the expectations of the players and the coaches going in."
The Pioneers tasted victory for the first time in just their second game, a thrilling 27-23 victory over Howard Payne University. Their other triumph was a rousing 58-37 homecoming win over Southwestern Assemblies of God University.
"We got our first win and our first homecoming win. Those are two big starting places," Henderson said. "That gave us a good start."
Wayland almost picked up a third victory but lost on the road to Austin College, 24-23. The Pioneers' next closest game was a 26-0 loss to Texas College.
While he knows it was tough for the team to take its lumps at times, Henderson hopes enduring those experiences will pay off down the road.
"Because the kids were thrown into the fire from the very beginning, they were able to experience what some kids in college would not experience until their third year," the coach explained. "That will pay big dividends as we go to next year. The jump a lot of our players are able to make next year will be similar to what many college players" don't make until in between their junior and senior years.
Henderson said one facet of his first team he was very pleased with was the kicking game.
"We emphasized that the kicking game would be a big part of what we did. As a program we established that very strongly, and that part of the game really produced for us all year long."
But he said the aspect of the season he was most proud of was the improvement his team showed from week to week.
"The thing we did see was we got better every week, which is a reflection of the type of attitude the kids had," he said.
Now, he added, it's a matter of "learning how to win" consistently.
"We played well at times throughout the year, but we have to learn how to put those final things together in order to win more. We have to learn that you do it week after week after week. In our league you're playing against good people every Saturday, and you have to be able to adapt to the changes (teams) bring at you."
Henderson said the Pioneers also have to address the speed factor.
"Everybody seems to have it, especially offensively, and that hurt us at times. Speed and just good athletes…everybody has good athletes, too."
Not that the Pioneers don't have speed and good athletes, but Henderson said you can never have enough. Part of Wayland's issue this season was facing established programs with more mature players, something Henderson – who expects the large majority of key contributors to return next season – said partly will take care of itself as the young Pioneers develop and mature.
But that's also something that will be addressed through recruiting.
"We have to continue to get physically stronger. We made great grounds last year, and we have to continue to do that. And as a team we have to build more depth with kids who can come off the bench and play. I feel another year of maturity in the offseason of growing stronger will really help us."
In addition to improving physical maturity, Henderson said the Pioneers also will benefit from being more mentally prepared next season.
"That experience of being there is probably the greatest teacher. Our players learned what level they are going to have to play for us to be successful. They'll know next year what the battle is going to be like all the way through. They'll know that and understand that going into next year, and we will know what to expect."
After giving his players Monday off, Henderson said they started their out-of-season strength program on Tuesday. That will keep Henderson and his staff busy, as will continuing to hit the recruiting trails.
"We'll evaluate the recruits and begin to see if we can get them here. We'll get them to visit first and then see if we can get them here" to play.
One of the biggest selling points Henderson will use with recruits is the atmosphere they'll find at Wayland, which was exhibited throughout the Pioneers' football season by the support shown by the university and fans in general.
"We had a really good year as far as what the kids did and how they meshed together to become a team. That's a lot of what Wayland does as a university. You become attached as part of that family," Henderson said.
He said the team's loyal support – not just from players' parents but from WBU faculty and staff members as well as the community – "says to kids that this is important, that this is a place where people care about you. You don't get that everywhere.
"That's been another amazing part about all of this."