The expectations are always high for Aiken High School's football team.
After all, the Hornets have been among the powers in Class AAAA for much of the past two decades.
But the team stumbled in 2009, losing six consecutive games en route to a 4-8 record and a first-round playoff loss.
Even more disturbing was that the defense surrendered 35 or more points in six of those losses.
Coach Carey Johnson, back for his 15th season, isn't alarmed. He expects his team to bounce back from last year's disappointment.
"I wish we could do like the fans think we can do and go all over the state and recruit players, but unfortunately you have to work with the ones who are committed to what you do and believe in hard work paying off," Johnson said.
The Hornets showed they have plenty of fight at the Aiken County Jamboree. Against Williston-Elko, the Hornets struck for two quick touchdowns against the reigning Class A Division II champions.
"It was a game to boost our confidence," Aiken quarterback Billy Vickers said. "We've got a lot of experienced players back, and we know if we work at it we can win."
Vickers leads an offense that should be potent again. Aiken scored plenty of points last year, reaching 20 or more points eight times.
He'll have sophomore running back Brian Gaines and some new faces at receiver to help him out.
Aiken, always known for its powerful running game, will throw the ball a bit more than usual, Johnson said.
"We did a passing league or two this year, so we're tossing it around a little bit," he said. "Our philosophy is still the same. We're going to try to control the clock and play good defense."
The Hornets don't return many starters on defense, but they do have defensive end Devon Johnson back for his senior year. The 6-4, 224-pound player led Aiken in sacks a year ago and is drawing interest from several Division I schools.
Carey Johnson said the Hornets have little experience at linebacker or secondary.
"But I think we've gotten better because we've got some kids who are pretty good athletes who have stepped up, and one or two who have moved in, that kind of thing," he said.
Junior Robert Holmes will handle the kicking duties.
With region realignment, the Hornets could be in the mix for a title. Irmo is no longer in Aiken's region, but still on the schedule. North Augusta is expected to be strong again, and crosstown rival South Aiken rejoins the region under new coach Jeremy West.
"We expect big things out of our team like we do every year. If we meet those expectations only time will tell, but the kids have been working hard all summer long and did a good job in the offseason," Johnson said. "We're kind of excited to see what's going to happen."