Chris Shinn knows he has a tough job.
But he is looking forward to his second-year as the leader of a Central Cabarrus football team that hasn't won a game since November 2007.
Shinn, who went 0-11 in his first year as head coach, believes the team is making strides on and off the field.
"We're still a work in progress, but I think we've gotten better in a lot of ways," said Shinn, who was an assistant at Central from 1999 to 2008 and is a 1995 graduate of the school. "Everybody wants to see results on the field, but we just have to focus on improving right now."
Any improvement, whether big or small, begins with a game of numbers. After Hickory Ridge opened in 2007, Central Cabarrus' football team suffered major losses in the number of players available.
But now, Shinn and company hope that they are back, as they consistently had 70 or more players at summer workouts, with 100 to 115 coming out overall.
"I've been here through the good times and the bad," said Shinn. "It feels like we're starting at a new school, starting from scratch. But this is where we are at, this is what we've got to work with. There are no excuses."
The Vikings hope success begins with senior quarterback D.J. Watson, who started most of last season. Watson will be pushed by athletic sophomore Jamaal Klugh, who will likely get the ball in some way.
Shinn said he hopes either one or both will be able to jump-start an offense that averaged less than 10 points per game in 2009.
No matter who starts at quarterback, he will have help in the backfield, where seniors Jarod Garrick and Chris Franklin will try to make up for the loss of Quintin Gay, who took his talents to Lenoir-Rhyne University.
Junior wideout Aaron Johnson should also be a major threat for the offense and establish himself as the team's best deep threat. Johnson needs to be a game-breaker for the Vikings to keep the opposing defense teams honest.
Senior Wesley Williams leads a veteran offensive line that also will be a big factor in how competitive Central can be.
While the offense struggled last year, the defense wasn't a lot better, surrendering more than 40 points per contest.
But Shinn, who was the team's defensive coordinator before becoming head coach, believes the Vikings will be much improved.
Joey Jackson will lead a young defensive line with strength and quickness. Jackson, who has played only two years of organized football, has been one of the team's most hard-working players in the off-season and should be bigger, faster and stronger.
Four experienced players return to the linebacking corps, led by junior middle linebacker Travis Enix. Enix will be joined by seniors Jordan Pridgen, Wyatt Houston and Dedric Whittle.
The defensive backfield is still looking for answers in some spots, but Johnson and Garrick are a good start.
"We have a lot of positions that still haven't been decided for sure," said Shinn. "We're trying to establish new attitudes and new traditions. I think competition makes that better."
There will be plenty of competition on Central's schedule, which may be one of the tougher slates in the area. The Vikings open with defending 3A state champion, West Rowan, then take on playoff teams like South Rowan and Marvin Ridge, before hitting the South Piedmont conference.
"Our schedule is still a test for where our program is right now," said Shinn, whose Vikings haven't had a winning record since 2005. "But we believe that we are a lot better football team, and we believe that the wins will come."