There are few things more demoralizing than going through a winless season, especially in a sport such as football. A team not only endures the losses, but often takes a physical pounding.

Yet when things seem at their lowest, there is always a chance for a better day, which is what senior quarterback/defensive back Shareef Jefferies and his teammates at Salem have discovered.

Jefferies was a varsity starter in the secondary as a freshman for a Salem team that went 0-10. This is a proud program that produced the likes of former NFL running backs Lydell Mitchell and A.B. Brown.

Football has always meant a great deal to the community, but that 0-10 season brought its share of apathy.

"That year was really frustrating," Jefferies said. "It seemed that everybody stopped caring at some point."

There is a lot more caring going on these days.

Before the 2013 season, Salem brought in coach Dennis Thomas, who immediately turned things around.

The Rams were 5-6 and won a South Jersey Group 1 playoff game his first season.

Then last year, Salem went 8-4 and advanced to the South Jersey Group 1 championship.

"It meant a lot to get to that point," Jefferies said. "I thought it might take a while to get us up."

Of course, there is only one place more to go if Salem is to improve this year. The Rams (3-0) are viable Group 1 contenders.

They host Penns Grove (3-0) on Saturday in what could be a true playoff preview. Those two teams, along with defending champion Paulsboro, Pennsville, Glassboro and Woodbury are among the contenders in what appears to be a much deeper Group 1 field.

Everybody wondered if Salem would take a step back when Thomas took the head coach job at Millville after last season, but his assistant Montrey Wright was named head coach, keeping the continuity and the winning.

Wright is a 2006 Salem graduate, so he knows about the tradition.

"These guys have played so hard, what we call assignment, alignment football," Wright said. "They have been flying to the ball."

The Rams have outscored Pitman, Glassboro and Gloucester by a cumulative 115-14.

Junior running back Jonathan Taylor (5-11, 200) is a big-play threat. He has scored seven touchdowns in the first three games. Taylor, who is a fine student-athlete, says that Temple, Harvard, Albany, Army and Rutgers have been among the schools in constant contact.

"It was big being in the finals last year," Taylor said. Our program hadn't been there in over 20 years."

It was 1993 to be precise, when Salem last played in a sectional final before last year. The Rams lost to Hammonton, 28-22, in the South Jersey Group 2 championship that season.

Since the advent of NJSIAA playoffs in 1974, Salem has reached the sectional final six times. The only time the Rams have made it to the sectional final in consecutive years was 1982 and 1983. Salem lost to Delsea in the '82 Group 2 final and then beat Hammonton to win the Group 2 title the next year.

This year Salem is looking to do duplicate that feat. It is something that seemed almost unreachable when Shareef Jefferies was a freshman.

Yet the program that was down didn't stay that way for long. It shows that turnaround can indeed happen when everybody is on the right page.

It also shows that even proud football programs can take a major dip through the years. Salem has bounced off the canvas in less time than it has taken others, and for good reason. Now the Rams have ambitious goals and the ability to meet them.

@sjnard