After a dismal 2-8 football season last year, the Thomson High Bulldogs find themselves in a new region alignment with high hopes of making the playoffs this season.
"We're a lot better football team now than we were at the end of last season," remarked Thomson defensive coordinator John Barnett during an interview on Monday. "We're working harder and showing more enthusiasm."
Not making any predictions about what this year's team might do in terms of win-loss record, coach Barnett says, but, "We'll win more than two games."
He'll know more when his squad plays host to the Washington-Wilkes Tigers on Friday at The Brickyard in Thomson. Game time is set for 7:30 p.m.
"It's still a little soon to tell, but I think we've got good quickness and we're going to be a little more aggressive than we were last season," coach Barnett said.
Last year, because of experience, the Bulldogs were forced to play a lot of sophomores.
Such won't be the case this season.
Coach Barnett said this year's team has several senior players who he and the other coaches are counting on heavily.
Some of those players include: Nic Wood, Anthony "Scooter" Moss, Jacoby Crawford, Ronald Jackson, Terrence Bradshaw and Leroy Cummings.
Wood, described as one of the most dependable players on the team, will see action as a defensive lineman and is likely to be the long snapper on the special team, as well as the extra point kicker.
"Nic is a real dependable player, who we are expecting to see get a lot of action this year," coach Barnett said. "We're hoping he'll stay healthy and not get hurt this season."
Moss, who saw lots of action last season, is returning for his last season on the football team. He will play defensive linebacker and run fullback on the offensive unit.
Crawford is a three-year starter. At 6 feet tall, Crawford weighs 240 pounds and is considered one of the strongest Bulldogs on the team. Crawford will play strong safety and linebacker.
Jackson, meanwhile, is another returning starter on the defensive squad. He plays defensive back.
Two other players expected to see lots of action this season, especially on the defensive side of the football include Bradshaw and Cummings.
Bradshaw will play corner back, while Cummings, who now stands at 5-11 and weighs 270 pounds, will be a starting defensive and offensive lineman.
"We're expecting a lot of things from each one of those players," coach Barnett said. "We're hoping Cummings will develop into one of our team leaders, but we'll just have to wait and see."
Unlike previous years, several of them will find themselves playing on both sides of the football this season, coach Barnett said.
"A lot of kids will see action on both sides of the football, which will be a lot different from how we have played in the past," coach Barnett added. "Coach Welsh bought into the idea and the kids seem to be committing themselves to it."
He estimated that between 80 and 85 percent of the team's players will be practicing on both sides of the football this season.
Coach Barnett was emphatic about the reason he is out there on the sideline.
"My agenda is to win football games," he said. "That's the real reason I'm out there."
One of his aims, as it has been in all the 20 previous years that he has served as defensive coordinator under coach Welsh is to get the kids to play above their heads.
"I believe I have a knack for developing relationships with kids that helps them to learn how to play the game as well as that of life with triumphs along with knockdowns and disappointments," coach Barnett said.
He pointed out that in three games last season he was disappointed in the team's overall performance.
"It was disappointing in games against Liberty, West Laurens and Buford because I didn't think we portrayed ourselves as real Thomson Bulldogs," coach Barnett lamented. "We've got to somehow find a way to play like real Thomson Bulldogs this season."
He explained that he and other coaches on the staff worked harder and put in more hours last season than he has done in previous years at the school.
"We tried to find a different scheme, a different plan, but everything we tried seemed to fail," coach Barnett said.
A new season is about to dawn, though, one that has him feeling a lot more optimistic than a year ago.
"A lot of our kids have shown a marked improvement over last year and that's positive," he said.