Nation Ford coach Rusty Jester can now look back at where he was and where his Falcons were a year ago. His team played an independent schedule last year in their first year of varsity football.
"Last year at this time we didn't have a practice field, we were short on helmets and I think we had five or six footballs," Jester said. "We were pulling stuff out of boxes trying to figure out what we had and what we needed. This whole process has been exciting but it is also nice not to have to deal with that again this year."
On the immediate horizon is a tough schedule for the Falcons in the powerful region 3-AAAA. They will play at Gaffney and Clover. They host Northwestern, York and Fort Mill.
Interestingly, the Fort Mill game is listed as a home contest for Nation Ford. The Falcons will again share Bob Jones Stadium over at Fort Mill High this year. So it may feel less than homey.
But stadium construction is projected to begin on Nation Ford's campus in October. This will be a featured game for years to come between the cross-town schools.
Nation Ford has managed to get some smaller schools on to the schedule with Class 2A Chesnee, along Class A Herald-area schools Great Falls and Lewisville. None of those games will be easy though.
"We want to be competitive. We want to play an aggressive style of football. That's our thing. We want to compete even though we may be the underdog in nine or 10 games out of 11," Jester said.
With a year of experience under their belts, Nation Ford went to work at the conclusion of the season.
"It's been a big, big benefit," Jester said of playing last year with so many young kids.
"We had a great off season. The kids are bigger, stronger and more experienced. Going into the conference we are still going to have growing pains. It will be hard to compete in the region."
Bigger is the operative word when it comes to the Falcons' offensive line. Every lineman is back from a year ago. Jester has moved one defensive lineman to the other side of the ball. These guys are big.
Ryan Seay (6-foot-4, 295 pounds) and Jake Kimbrell (240) are the tackles. Zach White (6-4, 220) and Tyler Veazey (6-3, 280) are the guards. David Liotta (5-10, 240) is the center.
The Falcons used a platoon system at the quarterback position last year. Jester wants to settle on one QB this year. It will come down to senior Joey White or junior Mitchell Starnes.
Jester said White is taller and throws the ball well. He described Starnes as more of a runner.
Senior Tony Hall was a workhorse at tailback as a junior. He will lead the running attack and Justin Lane will spell him.
Dee Truesdale led the team in receptions last year. He will be the go-to target. Senior Isaiah McCrorey as well as sophomores Will Ford and Nick Damm will line up at wide receiver. Jackson Gibson and Lance Jacobs will be slot backs.
Jester's defense will be based out of the 4-3.
"Teams will have to think about (Nation Ford) middle linebacker Daniel Davis, our two studs up front (defensive end) Kelvin Foster and (defensive lineman) Stephen Cox and free safety Stephen Smith. Yeah, we have our own Steve Smith," Jester joked.
Davis is a 5-10, 215-pound senior. Foster goes 6-0, 230 while Cox is 5-11, 230.