MELISSA — There will always be one season Seth Stinton puts first.

But the one the Cardinals had this past fall might just be second on his list.

After struggling through a 1-9 campaign in 2015 — the only time since he took over in 2009 Melissa has failed to make the playoffs — the Cardinals went 8-4 and reached the area round before losing against state semifinalist Gilmer.

Relying on a large number of underclassmen, Melissa improved to third in the District 5-4A (II) standings. The offense scored more than 200 points than the prior regular season while the defense allowed 125 fewer points.

“You’ve got to give credit to that senior group of kids and their work ethic,” Stinton said. “They changed the mentality. How much they changed to getting Melissa football back to where it’s supposed to be.”

For the turnaround, Stinton has been named the Herald Democrat All-Texomaland Class 4A-5A Football Coach of the Year for the 2016 season. It is the second time he has won the award (2011, Class 2A-3A).