INDIANAPOLIS -- When the Warren Central Warriors lost in the first round of last year's state playoffs, the defeat unnerved them. It gnawed at them. But it also drove them.
"We actually wore bracelets that say 'one and done, never again,' '' explained standout cornerback Kaleb Humphrey. "So every day, we look at them. It's motivation to keep on pushing."
The Warriors seek to push all the way to Lucas Oil Stadium this season and win their sixth state championship in nine years. The march began last Friday when the defense-rich Warren team blanked North Central 29-0. The one-and-done danger for the 2011 tournament is over, but the Warriors and their coach will continue to wear the wristbands.
Coach John Hart gathered his players in the end zone after the North Central game. He wore six wristbands but, after a brief speech to his team, ripped one of them off. The players roared.
"Each game we win (in the playoffs), he'll take one off," Humphrey said. "He said he hates (wrist)bands, but he had to do it for the playoffs. Just keep it going. Motivation."
And, of course, if all six come off, it means Warren will be carting home another state championship trophy, the eighth in school history. With Warren's proud tradition of football success, state titles are typically the goal.
"I think we've talked about it as much as you can talk about something in the past," Hart said about the 35-14 first-round loss to Lawrence Central, which went on to be state runnerup in 2010. "The value of history is learning from previous mistakes."
The Warriors learned, all right.
"I've never had a group work harder," Hart said about the offseason. "We started Dec. 1 with speed development drills, and we must have had 99 percent attendance. Then we had workouts at 6 in the morning in January through March, and again we probably had 99 percent attendance. There's a commitment to be a great football team."
Great football teams usually have stalwart defenses. The Warriors have allowed only 15.4 points a game through 10 weeks of a formidable schedule. They held North Central to minus-1 yard rushing.
It starts with the defensive front four -- tackles Sheldon Day and Darnell Smith, and ends Jonathan Burt and Josh Posley. Defensive coordinator Steve Tutsie calls them the "Four Horsemen." Hart talks about the way all four developed themselves with hours of work on and off the field.
"I think their average GPA is 3.5," Hart said. "And they have really challenged themselves in the weight room. Only Posley played as a sophomore. It's not like they were just phenoms and walked onto the field."
Day, who has nine sacks from his inside position, is a Notre Dame recruit. Burt and Posley are committed to Cincinnati, and Smith is headed for Ball State.
"I feel like we get better every week, and we're matching teams' intensity early," Day said. "I feel like we're playing real good football."
The Indianapolis Star cited Day as the metro area's top-rated recruit and recently noted his plan to graduate early from Warren and enroll in January at Notre Dame. He wants to major in pre-med or business.
"I think the thing about Sheldon is how much better he wanted to be than he was in his junior year," Hart said. "He was an All-American as a junior, so he was pretty good. That kind of tells you a little bit about him."
Junior linebacker Tim Kimbrough leads the Warriors with 155 tackles. Humphrey, whom Hart describes as one of the nation's top cover corners, has made 36 tackles and intercepted three passes. Humphrey, a play-maker who also takes the field occasionally on offense, scored on a 68-yard pass reception against North Central.
"We may mess up here and there," Humphrey said, "but if we all bond together and play our responsibilities, there's no telling what the defense can deliver."
Quarterback Kyle Faunce has completed 68 percent of his passes for 1,488 yards with 19 touchdowns and only five interceptions. His leading receiver is Kevin Davis with 34 receptions for an average gain of 20 yards.
"I think (Faunce) has developed all year long," Hart said. "He has a terrific arm. He throws the ball well on the move. He makes a defense defend everything. They can't put a whole bunch of cats up in the box because of what he's able to do, especially with Kevin Davis."
Running back Deionte Buckley has averaged 138 rushing yards per game and more than 7 yards per carry. Buckley, who is committed to Cincinnati, is one of 11 Warren players recruited to play at Football Bowl Subdivision colleges (formerly NCAA Division I-A).
Hart is proud that the Warren system and a strong coaching staff have helped to develop the team's work ethic and tough-minded performers.
"I think a lot of people think of us as just being talented, like our players just kind of walk right out on the football field," Hart said. "I think they were 6-3 as freshmen. These guys that have the Division I scholarships did it through the program, through hard work and sweat. That's the way we have to win football games, and that's what we've done."
This week, Warren plays Indianapolis Tech (5-4). If the Warriors win, they advance to a sectional final matchup against the winner of the Carmel-Lawrence Central game. The Warriors won 22-20 over No. 2-ranked Carmel on Sept. 30. They would be playing Lawrence Central for the first time since last year's opening-round loss.
Plenty to think about, right? In due course, according to the Warriors.
"Focus on what's important now," Humphrey said, referring to Tech. "Focus on that game, that team, that scheme. And play hard. No looking ahead."