Forward Seth Still's time on the court was limited with last year's senior-laden Hickory Ridge basketball team.
But Still, now a senior, has taken ownership of the Ragin' Bulls, stepping up to become a consistent threat down low.
After averaging fewer than 5 points per game off the bench last year, when Hickory Ridge had 10 seniors on its roster, Still knew this year would be his time to shine. He wanted to prove he belonged in the starting lineup.
"I've been waiting on this for a long time, so I definitely took it very seriously," he said.
Still worked on his strength and agility while also working on his game, building his arsenal of post moves and working on his mid-range jump shot in the preseason.
The dedication seems to be paying off, as the 18-year-old led the Bulls to a 7-0 start - a school best - while averaging more than 18 points a game.
"He came into this season ready to go," said Hickory Ridge coach Robert Machado.
Machado says Still always had the potential to play the way he's shown this year.
"Seth, for us, has been a constant," said Machado. "Especially in the low block, his offensive game is one of the better ones we've seen come through here."
Machado said Still is able to use an array of moves as he backs into defenders in the block. He can face up, take the ball up-and-under or go up with either hand.
"He's got a lot of moves that kids these days don't work on," Machado said.
Still says he uses his 6-foot-5, 215-pound frame to get the upper hand on opponents. "That's the easiest way for me to score," he said, "so I try to take advantage of that."
Shooting nearly 50 percent from the field, Still also has the ability to use his strength to draw fouls and get to the line - where he's making 70 percent of his free throws.
But Still hasn't had to do it all himself.
Fellow senior Kellen Lipscomb has also had a good year. He's second on the team in scoring - averaging 13 point per game - and leading the Bulls in assists with more than 6 a game.
Still credits Lipscomb with a lot of his success.
"He's really helped me out, finding me and giving me the ball," said Still. "Having unselfish people around me has helped."
Junior forward Tydus Parks, who came up from the junior varsity, has also played well as a starter. At 6-foot-5, Parks is third on the team in scoring, averaging nearly 10 points per game, while also helping the Bulls with rebounding. He leads the team with 6 boards a game.
Seniors Harvey Cook, a guard, and Jason Eury, a small forward, also have stood out for Machado.
"They're doing the stuff that you don't always read about: getting good defensive rebounds, taking charges, being on help side," he said.
Machado said that, after Still and Lipscomb, nearly anyone on the team can be the third scoring option.
"Every game, we've had a different third piece step up," said Machado. "That makes us harder to guard."
Being undefeated through its first seven games, with big wins against Marvin Ridge and Sun Valley, has given the team a lot of momentum. Machado said he's surprised at the early-season success after losing so much talent from last year.
"We've molded quicker together than I ever thought we would," said Machado.
Machado, Still and the rest of the Ragin' Bulls are focused on winning the program's first conference championship. To win the South Piedmont Conference, they first will have to go through Concord, and that will not be an easy task.
As Hickory Ridge's focus continues to be getting the ball inside on every possession, Still will be key for the Bulls' title chances.
Machado said if he keeps playing the way he has early and is able to stay out of foul trouble in big games, he'll give them a good chance.
"He's going to be a beast for us all year," said Machado.