Lake Norman's inexperience showed on the football field last year, as the Wildcats went on to win only two games for the season.
Instead of dwelling on the disappointing campaign, coach Rob McNeely is looking at the positives. The biggest one, he said, was witnessing how his team persevered.
"They fought to the end. Nobody quit on us," he added.
McNeely hopes his team's mentality combined with more experience will translate into a better year for his Wildcats.
He said the team's improvement starts with the offensive line.
"That's where you win and lose ball games - up front," McNeely said. "We have some competition on the line and that's going to be one of our strong points."
The group will be led by Karson Sherrill, who will transition from guard to tackle this season. The 6-foot-3, 300-pound senior will have help from classmates James Post and Anthony Magiiozzi. Senior Reid Kelly takes over as the Wildcats' center after not seeing much action last season.
With last year's quarterback, Will Scott, deciding to focus on lacrosse and step away from the football field, junior Connor Poteat and senior Colin Abercrombie are competing for the starting spot.
"Both of them bring something to the table. Colin is more of a passing quarterback, while Poteat brings a little more athleticism to the position," said McNeely. "We're not asking the quarterback to do a lot of things - just to manage the game and not make a lot of mistakes."
McNeely explained that his team will focus on the run game, having three quality backs - returners Cory Davis, a senior, and Kyle Grader, a junior, as well as junior Dylan Miller, who moves up from the junior varsity squad - on his roster.
After losing its top receivers, Zeke Clarke and Austin Eisenhofer, the team will have to regroup at that spot.
Junior Jake Forth, who played nearly half of last season with the varsity team, and senior Alex Turner are the most experienced returning wideouts. Senior Jermaine Blakely and junior Jesse Seaford, the team's only two returning defensive starters, should also have plenty of opportunities to catch the ball.
Lake Norman, which will again run a 4-3 scheme, will have a young linebacker corps, but McNeely said he has high expectations for his defensive line.
"We're not as good as we have been in years' past, but again we should have a lot of depth," he said.
Defensive end Garret Kight, who should also see time as tight end, was a backup last year but should lead the group. McNeely said the senior's hard work in the weight room during the offseason has paid off.
McNeely doesn't want to look at the long-term for his team, instead focusing on getting them to click and get better every practice and every game.
"We don't really have expectations. ... We're more focused on getting these kids ready to play," he said.
After having only three players with varsity experience in 2010, he hopes his players will be able to better execute his game plan.
McNeely said he's realistic about the tough road ahead, but he can see a lot of promise from this team.
"We're not the best athletes in the world, we're not the biggest, strongest or fastest team that anybody's going to face, but our kids are smart and coachable," he said. "They work hard, so that's what we have in our favor."