Carson King would go up to the Cinco Ranch campus during late evenings this summer and see the light on in coach Chris Dudley’s office. A friend of King’s told him he went up to campus to workout at 6 a.m. one morning and saw Dudley’s car in the parking lot.

“He’s always up here,” said King, a senior cornerback. “He’s dedicated. I love that.”

Dudley is not without task, however. When Don Clayton retired late this spring after 19 years at the helm of Cinco Ranch, Dudley—formerly a 15-year Cinco Ranch defensive assistant who had a brief stint with Taylor last year as assistant head coach/defensive coordinator—was hired on May 21 to succeed the only coach Cougars football has ever known.

The last two-plus months for Dudley have been a crash-course on Program Building 101. And while there is not significant rebuilding necessary, as Clayton departed with Cinco Ranch owning a winning legacy as one of the top programs in Katy ISD, and often the region, Dudley has a fresh spring in his step and new ideas for what he wants this new era of Cougars to be.

“Anytime, whether it’s a coach or player, when there’s change involved, you have to adapt,” Dudley said. “We’ve done a good job of buying in as coaches. Players are the kings of being adaptable. They go through seven teachers during a school day. Different mindsets there. Then they come out and have to learn some new things in football. They’re capable, and they’ve been eager. They’re excited to write their chapter in 2019 and look past last year.”

The Cougars held their official first day of practice on August 12, and it was Dudley’s first true opportunity to put his stamp on things.

During drills, that meant players not only knowing but understanding assignments. Cinco Ranch is going back to a 4-2-5 defense after a one-year hiatus of that scheme. Offensively, things will remain relatively the same, with some tinkering here and there.

During conditioning, the idea was for players to learn how to be tired. To pick others up instead of worrying about themselves.

“The big thing on Day 1 is them understanding that this will be a process and you can’t skip parts of the process,” Dudley said. “Coaches and players. We’re stripping everything down to bare bones and making sure we don’t assume anything. We start with the fundamentals, and they need to see the correlation between the details of their position and how that relates to their performance on game night.”

For the first day of practice, there was rapid energy and pace. Upperclassmen were vocal and attentive, a sign of how eager they are to rid themselves of the sting of a 3-7 season last year.

“We have that hunger to get back to our winning ways,” senior defensive back Brady Matthews said. “It was tough to experience last year. That’s not us. We understand we have a whole lot to improve. That will come on the field, where there is way more of a brotherhood than last year. This team really connects.”

Dudley’s influence has been considerable in that regard. Senior offensive lineman Carlos Abascal, for instance, appreciates how Dudley prioritizes building one-on-one relationships with players.

“It’s been a pretty smooth transition,” senior defensive tackle Isaiah Dycus said. “He’s bringing back a lot of old qualities and traditions and characteristics that were fading away. He brings some rejuvenation to the culture.”

But there is also an understanding that Cinco Ranch has a long way to go, particularly with just three returning starters and 11 returning lettermen.

“From the younger guys, we need more focus,” Dycus said. “We need more buy-in. We need attention to detail. Those are the main things that we need if we want to get where we want to go.”

This summer was spent working on familiarity, Dudley said. He and his coaching staff—which includes four new coaches, including Dudley; one of those new faces is defensive backs coach Zach Velliquette, a 2010 graduate of Cinco Ranch, former first-team all-state selection and the first former Cougars player to return to coach at his alma mater—have met the last four weeks to review practice schedules. They went over personnel. There was a strict focus on kids being in the right spots to begin practices, because last year it was a different defense and this year some kids have changed roles on offense.

“As a coaching staff, it’s been about coming together and making sure we understand the culture of the program and the direction we’re trying to go and what we’re trying to teach the kids in terms of football,” Dudley said.

Dudley doesn’t have to do much to sell kids on his style. They want to win.

During conditioning sprints, players spoke of being driven for greatness as they waited their turn to run. Their actions complemented their words. They didn’t just have their feet touch the line on sprints, they ran through it.

“It’s an exciting time,” Abascal said. “Ever since I was young in this program, I always looked up to the seniors and guys who were leaders. They were the guys who set the tone. Now that I’m one of them, it’s a great feeling to know we have a chance to start something special.”