CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CBS19 SPORTS) -- One team's championship trophy can be another team's off-season motivation. That's the case at St. Anne's-Belfield this summer.
"There's not a day that goes by where I don't think about losing that state championship game. I mean, I shed tears after that game," said STAB senior linebacker Joe Ambrosi. "That was tough."
The Saints went 6-3 during the inaugural regular season of the eight-man VISFL, earning the two-seed in the playoffs and ultimately reaching the championship, where STAB lost 76-41 to crosstown rival Covenant.
"Based off of last year, everybody's got a nice chip on their shoulder," said STAB junior fullback/linebacker Gabe Decker. "Want to go back, and then this time we want to take it all."
"We had the best first week of football practice out here since probably 2010. I mean, it's been that good," said STAB head coach John Blake. "I think it's totally out that they understood where we stood last year, at the end of the year, and they want to be better."
The Saints have 18 players back from last season's state runner-up team, though they do need a new quarterback. Junior Pierre Reeves and sophomore Nolan Bruton have been competing for that job this summer.
"We have a lot of linemen back. We have running backs back. We had a lot of guys who touched the ball on offense," said Blake. "We just need to be able to maintain it, and stay relatively calm, but excited."
There's now question who the Saints' leader will be on defense. That's a role that Ambrosi has been groomed for at middle linebacker.
"Joe's not only been here four years. He's been in the program since seventh grade. He's been at school since preschool," said Blake. "So he knows what this is all about. And it's huge. When he speaks, they listen."
"I've been in this program for six years, and it's something I've been building towards," Ambrosi said. "It's been my dream to be a senior on this football team, playing 'Mike' linebacker since I was a third grader. Being a senior now, it gives me even more of a leadership role."
All four of STAB's losses last year came against eventual state champs -- three against Covenant after losing the season opener at Faith Christian, the eventual eight-man title team in North Carolina. Faith Christian will visit STAB to open this season on August 30, and the Eagles will make the trip across town on October 18.
Blake doesn't like to use the word 'revenge,' but the Saints admit they're already fired up for the season to kick off.
"Everybody is looking forward to it. I'm excited, everybody's excited," said Ambrosi. "We're just ready to hit somebody in a different color than we are."