LOUISVILLE, Ga. -- Thanks to a 9-2 season and a Region 3-AA title in 1998, Jefferson County won't be able to sneak up on its competition this year.
A year ago, the Warriors ambushed two of their first three opponents, Burke County and Lincoln County, while the two were ranked No. 1 in their respective classifications. They easily won the region title before their season ended with a loss to Americus in the first round of the state playoffs.
Rabid fans have grown accustomed to success over the past two seasons. This season, coach Charles Rutland is trying to figure out how to continue the success with only a handful of starters returning.
For the first time since Jefferson County opened in 1995, the Warriors will have to perform without all-state performer George Lane at quarterback.
Another big loss was all-state performer Willie Batts at linebacker and Willie Patrick at tailback.
Players such as those aren't replaced overnight.
"Any time you have success, people want you to do it all the time," Rutland said. "We're working toward that consistency."
The Warriors may not have the big-name players like they did last season, but that doesn't mean they aren't as talented.
Running back Antonio Mitts, who rushed for 982 yards and three touchdowns last season, is back to lead the backfield.
Jefferson doesn't have an experienced quarterback, but senior Eric Williams was Lane's backup for the past couple of seasons. Junior Chris Farmer is battling Williams for the starting nod. Regardless of who wins the job, he'll have a pair of nice targets to throw to in senior Brandon Shields and top tight end prospect Pierre Lane.
The offensive line is in good shape, anchored by brothers Trayvis and Calvin Wells.
Rutland doesn't feel as good about his defense. The defensive line seems to be in good shape with Lane and Thomas Berry returning at the ends, while the Wells brothers, Kevin Cuyler and Jamarr Johnson provide experience.
There is no experience at linebacker and only cornerback Shedrick Williams is back in the secondary, which troubles Rutland.
"We don't really have any big names, but we've got a lot of kids that work real hard," Rutland said. "Good things happen when you work hard. I think we'll be really competitive again this season."