Mike Byus and his East Lincoln football team are used to winning. But it wasn't always like that.
The Mustangs lost the first four games of Byus' tenure before quickly turning the season around to finish the year 7-6.
Byus' latest streak includes two consecutive SPC titles and 15 straight league wins with their last loss coming in October of 2007 against Lincolnton.
"We've been able to build a strong program," said Byus. "But when you win like that, you put a target on your back."
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Byus' biggest challenge this season may be finding out who will start at quarterback, where he has three choices in senior Devin Easter, junior Patrick Rendleman and sophomore Garrett Young. Easter and Rendleman started at wide receiver, where Byus prefers them to play, but may be pressed into service behind center if Young isn't ready.
Young is in his first year on the varsity team.
The Mustangs will have a new tailback, following Austin Culp's departure. Junior Marcus "Bubba" McDowell will get the first crack at the job, with seniors Parker Alvis and Charlie Goss also seeing time.
The Mustangs go four-wide at receiver and hope that Easter and Rendleman make the unit as dangerous as possible. Senior Brian Hilgert, and sophomores Antwaine McClain and Jessie Earnhardt round out a talented group.
The offensive line could be the best part of the offense with all-conference senior Dylan Stortz leading the pack. Stortz, who is being recruited by most of the Southern Conference schools, packs a powerful punch at 6-foot-1, 280 pounds, but is just one of three returning starters with center Matt Hinson and Daniel Craig also back to help pave the way for the offense.
The Mustang defense also has to rebuild itself, but does have some key parts back to help out.
Stortz will be a force on the defense, even if it is just part-time, as he joins Jermal Roseboro and 320-pound sophomore Dallas Smith up front.
Senior Hunter Thomas will be counted as the leader of a linebacking corps that has experience with Alvis and Goss at two spots, with two more places in the 3-5 formation still up for grabs.
The defensive backfield should be the best unit with Easter, Rendleman and Marcus Corona back.
The Mustangs have the talent to be very good.
"We want to put ourselves in a position to win conference and make some noise in the playoffs," said Byus. "Lincolnton is loaded this year, so they are probably the favorite. But, we had a great summer and we are taking the first steps towards earning something."
East Lincoln could see some competition in the SPC, here are previews for the Mustangs' conference opponents:
Head coach Scott Cloninger has the Wolves (10-4, 4-1 in SPC last year) on the verge of bigger and better things.
Senior quarterback Brandon Wilson is a threat on every play with his arm, his legs, and his experience. Junior fullbacks Dee Littlejohn and Drake Henry headline a loaded backfield that averaged nearly 300 yards per game a year ago. The defense will also be tough with the secondary likely the best group in the SPC with Jalen Littlejohn, Michael Cunningham, Jamie Stamper and Wilson all back.
The Yellow Jackets have hovered in the middle of the SPC standings for the last three seasons, and hope this year can be a breakout campaign. But Bessemer City will have to replace all-everything quarterback Xavier Logan, who led the team in passing and rushing last year.
Junior running back Jhalen Adams seems poised to be a standout in the backfield. The defense will also have to rebuild after losing all-conference defensive lineman Reggie Williams (109 tackles) and linebacker Robbie Gehring (114 tackles).
After struggling mightily in 2007 and 2008, going a combined 2-20 overall, the Rebels showed life last season, going 4-7 (1-4 in SPC), including their first conference win since 2006.
First-year coach Tom Sain wants to keep the momentum going in 2010. Sain will to look to all-conference tailback Devyn Travis to shoulder most of the load. Travis led the SPC in rushing as a junior with more than 1,300 yards to go along with 13 touchdowns.
Like Bessemer City, the Ironmen have looked like a team that could make some noise in the SPC, but have found climbing the ladder in league play to be a tough chore.
All-everything, three-sport star Thomas Bess is back to lead the way at quarterback with two solid running backs in Alex Burns and Shane Harvell back to form a strong trio in the backfield. Senior lineman Jordan Coleman will anchor the defensive unit.
An injury-plagued season resulted in one of the worst seasons for the Knights in recent memory. But North Lincoln (1-10, 0-5 in SPC last season) should be a lot better off this year with junior quarterback Andrew Stidham back to lead the way. Defensive backs Logan Devine and Mitchell Gates hope to lead a much-improved defense that gave up 35 points a game last season.