The William Chrisman football program has come a long way in the last three years.

Going into the 2016 season, the Bears hadn’t had a winning record since 2002. The program struggled for most of the new millennium at that point and even had a 0-10 record in 2011.

But three years ago is when everything started to turn around for Chrisman.

The Bears had one of their best seasons ever, finishing the 2016 season with an 8-2 record. A year prior, they showed signs of life when they won their first playoff game in program history.

Chrisman has made some strides, putting together two winning seasons in a row at 8-2 and 7-4.

The culture of the program has changed, according to head coach Matthew Perry, and that’s part of the reason the Bears will have a tougher non-conference schedule than in years past.

During Monday’s practice, Perry shouted a question at his players while they were running sprints to get his team motivated for one of their new opponents.

“What is our goal?” he shouted.

“One and 0!” a row of players yelled while sprinting 50 yards down the football field at Independence All-School Stadium.

“That’s not loud enough!” Perry responded. “They can’t hear you in Blue Springs!”

“One and 0!” another row of players shouted.

For the first time since 2006, Chrisman will play against perennial powers Blue Springs and Blue Springs South, teams which have combined to win eight state championships since 1992.

Chrisman will take on Blue Springs in its season-opener on Aug. 24 at Peve Stadium and it will travel to South to play Sept. 28 at Larry Stewart Memorial Stadium.

“Once you prove that you can win some games, you have to up your schedule,” Perry said. “To play good football in November, you have to play good teams in September. Those teams are great teams and it’s going to be good for us.”

Perry and his players are excited for the opportunity.

“Our conference has been tough for the last several years,” Perry said. “The Liberty Norths of the world, the Staleys and the Fort Osages … They may not be Blue Springs, but they are not slouches.

“It’s going to be a great challenge. They (Blue Springs) are the best team in Missouri at the biggest level (Class 6). Coach (Kelly) Donohoe does an amazing job and they have numbers that we don’t have. Our kids are hopefully going to rise to the challenge.”

Added Bears senior running back/linebacker Christian Felix: “It’s a big step for us as a team. We had good seasons the last two years and we all came together as brothers. With the competition coming up, I think it will be better. I like it, and we’re ready for it.”

Felix along with many other seniors were a big part of the program’s recent turnaround. Guys like Bryan Cox, Kelvyn Mason, Dawson Herl, Taylor Perry, Isaiah McFall, Tre’Vaughn Sisco, David Toese, Jadyn Williams, Jaden Thomas, Hunter Clark and Colton Kerr have been a part of a senior class that “has been a catalyst to help make Chrisman football relevant again,” Perry said.

“Some of those guys have been playing for four or five years and have experience,” Perry said. “There’s nothing more valuable than field experience. You hope they can bring that and help mold the other kids.”

The current seniors’ success all started with the 2016 team that went 8-2 and won its first conference title since the early 1960s.

“We have all been starting since we were sophomores,” Felix said of the seniors. “That team was carried by our defense, which was mostly sophomores and juniors.”

And those seniors are a big reason why Perry has set high goals for his team.

“We want to be the best William Chrisman team ever,” Perry said. “Which means we have to make it further than last year.”