With experienced senior talent in positions all across the field, coach Marty Paxton had high expectations for Hickory Ridge last season.
But he admits that the 5-7 season, which included a 4-3 record in the South Piedmont Conference, was disappointing.
"The year didn't turn out like we wanted," said Paxton. "But we were competitive in most every game we played."
Paxton said he's been encouraged by the number of players they've had this summer, averaging about 80 players showing up for workouts. He also knows they will be young and inexperienced with only nine seniors on its roster.
"It's going to be tough, but I'm very optimistic just simply because of how the kids have worked. They've worked their tails off," he said. "Some of them have figured out that they have to pick up the pace knowing that so and so are not here any more."
The Ragin' Bulls will have to figure out how to fill big voids left by talented players like running back Brian Baltimore, who rushed for more than 1,900 yards in each of the past two seasons, as well as top defensive players Dillon Burdette and Noble Ajakaiye, who combined for 214 total tackles and 11 sacks.
Hickory Ridge returns last year's starting quarterback, Jason Eudy, but the senior has been moved to his natural position - wide receiver.
Junior Nick Tyson, who will take over at quarterback, saw some varsity action in the Bulls' playoff game last season against A.L. Brown. He threw for 123 yards on 11-for-24 passing.
"He's a very smart player who makes good decisions with the football," said Paxton. "He's an extreme competitor. He just wants to win."
Sophomore Trent Jordan and junior Andrew Reynolds, who come up from the JV team, will be needed to step up at running back.
Paxton said the Bulls have worked on the passing game more, knowing that Baltimore isn't around to carry the offense any longer, out of their four-wide scheme.
Jordan Thompson, a junior, should lead the way along with Eudy, who will play at slot, where Paxton hopes he will lessen the blow after Cody Cothren's departure.
Senior Dalen Helm should also make contributions out wide.
The offensive line will be young, having lost all of its starters. Junior Parker Henderson, who saw some time in the playoffs, will lead the way along with center Jake Marks.
Losing a lot of talent defensively, Paxton said he will have to rely on young players to fill those roles.
Junior linebacker D.J. Freeman, the top returning tackler after having 84 in 2010, will be relied on to lead his Bulls.
Jordan, also a linebacker, and Thompson, a free safety, should see time, while strong safeties Otis Robinson and Garrett Wells will be entrusted with that role.
Hickory Ridge loses its entire defensive line, but they hope to rely on Josh Chapman, who played the offensive end last year.
Despite the Ragin' Bulls' lack of experience, Paxton is aiming high.
"Our goal is to compete for a conference championship," he said. "We're not a new school any more - just winning more games than we lose is not good enough. Last year we didn't meet our goal, but I'm hoping this season our kids come in, as they have thus far, ready to go."