Something has clearly changed for the Purple and Teal this year and it might not have been anything more than a couple inches and 20 pounds.
Senior linebacker Luke Arciniega went through a growth spurt, practically lived in the weight room during the offseason and developed into the team's defensive leader.
"It really just started in the offseason. He was one of the guys who really got us in the weight room and working out," SSHS football coach Scott Hare said. "He does things the right way. He's not an overly vocal leader, but when he says something, it's got some power to it. He's been that guy in the middle, and our defense right now has been pretty solid. We have more than just him on defense, but he's still kind of that lynchpin right now. He's just one of those guys you count on to do it the right way and make sure other guys are doing it the right way."
Arciniega is an extension of the coaching staff on the field, making sure the other players are in the right formations and doing the right things on defense.
His own skills on the gridiron are equally as impressive as his leadership and work ethic. The senior linebacker is leading the team in total tackles at just under 10 a game.
But it's the combination of skills and attitude that is garnering attention by NCAA football programs up and down the West Coast.
"Last year he was 6'1.5" and 185 pounds. Now he's 6'3" and 210 pounds and schools are taking notice," Hare said. "He's hammering people both in the run game and covering guys in the passing game. He's doing a great job for us."
Arciniega will likely have several choices from which to choose. If he wants to stay close to home, he could have the chance to play for the Wolf Pack. However, he said his dream school has always been Oregon and would love to play for the Ducks if that opportunity presents itself. He just wants to play at the next level though.
He's got a more important priority right now though, helping his team win a league title. Spanish Springs sits at 3-1 in the High Desert League, but it controls its own destiny. With wins at Reed and at home against McQueen to close out the season, the Cougars will claim the top spot in league.
"We haven't beat Reed in the last couple years, but I think we're definitely capable of it. We just have to have a good week of practice and come out ready," Arciniega said. "It (winning league title) would be huge. It would be the first time in school history and it would be a huge step for us as a program."
It won't be an easy feat though, having lost four straight to the east Sparks school. The Raiders have been in first place since the league schedule began and are undefeated at 4-0. Reed also has a high-powered offense that will test Spanish Springs' biggest strength - its defense.
The Cougars have only allowed 17.5 points an outing, which is only two points lower than last year's average. But the big difference is the swagger Spanish Springs has on defense and it starts with Arciniega.
"Our defense has been our backbone, and I think most for most championship teams, their defense is their backbone," Hare said. "Offense is one third of the game, and it's extremely important. There's no doubt about it. Champions play defense. Our offense isn't the high-powered offense that Reed has or what Douglas had last year. But at the same time if I had to choose between winning 45-42 or winning 14-10, here in Northern Nevada when it's getting down to 25 or 30 degrees on a Friday night in late October, I want that defense to be as good as it possibly can be.
"I think that's where we're at right now. Our defense flies around and makes plays. It's hard to know where they're coming from. You really have to prepare for our defense because I don't think there's a weak spot out of the 11 that are out there."