Northwest Cabarrus needs to make up for a lot of lost talent from last year's 8-4 team that finished tied for second place in the South Piedmont Conference if they want to stay in the hunt for a league crown.
But Trojans' football coach Rich Williams said his team will surprise some this fall.
"Everybody's saying, they lost this guy and this guy, and think we're not going to be very good, but we will be good," said Williams.
The effort the Trojans have shown during the summer and so far in practice has the second-year Northwest Cabarrus coach excited for the season.
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The offense only returns three starters from last year after losing key players like all-conference quarterback Jeremy Cannon.
"We're going to be very young, very inexperienced," said Williams, who admits that his team has work to do to before they can be competitive. "We're not going to have our entire playbook in by the first game, but by conference we will."
Center Tatum Johnson, tailback Jordan Russ and wideout E.J. Rhinehart are the returning starters offensively.
Williams said the team will depend on these three for leadership, especially on Johnson as the senior makes the calls at the line.
Rhinehart, a 6-3 go-to receiver, and Russ will be key for the Trojans, which will line up in the two-back and I-formations, to be successful.
Junior Colby Williford takes over the quarterback responsibilities following Cannon's departure. Williams has been impressed with Williford so far.
"Colby's had a great summer for us," said Williams. "He's tough and coachable; he does what we need him to do. If we develop an offense around him, we think we'll be very successful."
The team plans to use Williford's speed to keep defenses guessing.
Williams explained that only time on the field will help the team come together.
On the defensive end, the Trojans have much more experience back on the field. Northwest returns three of their four starting defensive linemen - seniors D.J. Bostick, Donovan Shaw and Jaron Johnson. Weston Smith, who moves up from JV will round up the starting lineup.
The team will also count on all three of last year's starting linebackers - Rob Atwell, Matt Pless and John Edmond.
Although Edmond was moved to strong safety to help with the short-handed defensive back unit, Williams said his Trojans have enough talent at linebacker to fill Edmond's spot.
"Our front seven is going to be really good," said Williams. "We're going to rely heavily on them to lead us at the beginning of the season."
He added that Northwest's defense will be aggressive, going after their opponents with their speed and athleticism.
The big drawback with the defensive line is that many of them will be needed to play double-duty, also expected to play major time on offense because of the team's youth.
A big boost for the Trojans will be all-state kicker/punter Bradley Pinion. The junior could be a game changer for Northwest Cabarrus, a year after putting 37 out of 50 kickoffs in the endzone and being able to hit field goals nearly automatically from inside the 40-yard line.
Williams said that Pinion's biggest asset to the team may be his punting.
"Even if we're punting the ball from our own endzone, teams are getting it in the midfield or in their own 40, so he's helping our field position all the time," said Williams. "He can put it in the corner inside the 10, so he's just a great weapon to have."
Williams hopes his team's nonconference schedule, which will kick off against Mooresville Aug. 20, will help his team get better going into the SPC so the Trojans can achieve their ultimate goal.
"We want to win a conference championship," he said.