Now they just have to live up to the lofty expectations and a tradition that has seen the program post a 34-5 record over the past three seasons.
“I was worried more that they were going to just walk on the field and think they’re going to win,” head coach Dan Pippin said. “I haven’t seen that yet.”
The Yellow Jackets, once a losing program, have consistently won year after year long enough that it’s all this year’s senior class knows.
“If you’re a senior here the worst the varsity football team has done is 11-2. That’s a pretty big deal,” Pippin said. “Do you want to be the class that lets that tradition down? Do you want to have an off year and go to 7-4?”
A seven-win season would have produced a postseason parade when Pippin arrived six years ago and went 1-10. Double-digit wins are now the new normal.
“The attitude has changed,” senior safety Trey Morgan said. “We know we have a target on our back like they didn’t have back then.”
The pressure might rest on the defense early in the season while the Yellow Jackets reboot their offense. The team has new starters at quarterback and tailback and more newcomers than returning starters on the offensive line.
Replacing Vinny Miller, who scored 40 touchdowns last year and was the area’s leading rusher, quarterback Tyrell Hillary and his more than 2,500 yards passing and receiver Montez McGuire won’t be easy.
The faces might be different, but Pippin said the style won’t change.
“The fast-paced stuff, you can do that running anything and make it fast-paced, and we’re going to try to do that,” he said. “The kids have gotten more accustomed to it so now fast-paced is kind of the norm. They want to do it.”
Seniors Parker Collins and Jake Whitley will return to the offensive line to protect the new backfield. Pippin said the quarterback job went to Greenbrier transfer Cody Turner before he was injured in a preseason scrimmage. Sophomore Trib Reese took over and has proven his worth.
DeVonte Pressley will assume the starting tailback role after seeing regular playing time behind Miller.
Pippin said he’s not looking for spectacular plays this year. They’re not needed.
“I tell everybody I can’t promise that we’re going to be 10-1 again in the regular season, but as long as the kids do what we ask them to do I don’t think you can ask anymore than that,” he said. “They’re going to make plays. We don’t need them to do more than that. We don’t need special plays or anything like that. We just need to be the best we can be and we’ll do fine.”
The Yellow Jackets will start the season tonight at T.L. Hanna. They prepared for the game by wrapping up Thursday’s practice by drinking cans of pink lemonade.
“You only get one senior year in football,” Collins said. “You’ve got to go out and give your best in every situation you get and smile all the way through it.”
North Augusta will play its first widely televised day game Sept. 1 near Atlanta against Valdosta as part of North Gwinnett High School’s National High School Gridiron Challenge.