Youth and inexperience have been the storylines for the William Monroe football team in the last couple of years. The Dragons went 1-9 in 2012 with a number of sophomores in starting positions. Last season, they finished 3-8, after those sophomores returned for their junior seasons with more experience.
This year, it's a whole new story.
"We have about 25 seniors I think this year," said senior running back Cody Perkins. "We're all bigger, stronger, and faster now."
The Dragons have almost every one of their starters back from last season, and many of the players are now entering their third year as starters.
"We've all matured and grown up a lot, have grown together, so that helps with trusting each other a lot," said senior tight end and defensive end Satchel Knight.
"I was looking for photos from last year, and when they came into camp I'm like 'wow, they're men,' said first-year head coach Jon Rocha, who has worked as an assistant on the team since 2003. "They're young men now, so they're not the young kids we've watched the last two years."
One position where the Dragons will have a new starter is at quarterback. Rocha says he plans to make the decision before the team's opener on Sept. 5. In camp, senior Dustin Knight and sophomore Malique Shackelford are competing for the starting spot. According to their teammates, both have been impressive so far.
"They're both just tremendous competitors and they're both very athletic," Satchel Knight said. "They're smart too, so that helps at the quarterback position. Either one of them could start. Either way, whichever one of them starts, it will definitely be a big help for us."
"They both are very good athletes," added Perkins. 'They're both new to the game this year, so hopefully we'll play some good football with them behind center."
With the start of the 2014 season just a few weeks away, the confidence level is high at William Monroe. Rocha and the teams senior leaders say they're keeping everyone grounded, but with a bigger, stronger, and more experienced roster comes greater expectations.
"We're expecting to win a lot more games, and we like that," said Knight. "We need the pressure on us so we can perform well."
"We'd definitely like to get back to the playoffs and we're trying to win it all this year," added Perkins. "I think we've got a shot with all these seniors."
Rocha know a little something about winning it all. He was a member of William Monroe's state championship team in 1991. The first-year head coach doesn't know exactly how far this team can go, but he's confident that his seniors can lead the Dragons to success.
"I just tell them it's going to be a special year, and it is. What is special? A winning season. It could be a district championship, it could be going deep into the playoffs, and it could be a state championship. It's just going to be a special year."