The cyclical nature of high school football rosters can give a team loads of returning talent one year, then leave it lacking a lot of experience the next.
The bright side of the latter can be found in the following year's team, and that's where South Aiken finds itself in 2019.
After enduring inconsistencies in a frustrating 5-6 campaign last year, the T-Breds bring back familiar faces all over the field as they look to achieve their opening-game, county, region and state championship goals.
"We've got a good group of guys that really understand how to work," said South Aiken head coach Chris Hamilton. "I don't have to whoop and holler a whole lot – they get after it pretty much on their own. The thing I really like about this team this year is they've really jelled together as a group, as a family. They really care about each other. That's important. I think we were missing a little bit of that last year, and I think this year's group has really done a good job with that."
One big change for South Aiken is Jesse Sanders' return from quarterback to a wide receiver/tight end/H-back role, paving the way for E.J. Hickson to take the starting quarterback spot. That's a move Hamilton thinks will make the T-Breds more dynamic offensively – they also return more than 1,000 combined rushing yards from Nequel Ryans and Trevais Butler.
"I think we can be explosive on offense and still be able to run the ball and do what we need to do on that end, too, so that's always good," Hamilton said.
The offensive line is a point of emphasis, as it always is with Hamilton, and returning seniors Caleb Eichelberger and Jack McCarthy will be counted on to lead the youngsters toward South Aiken's high standard at that position.
The defense also returns plenty, just not up front. That production from a year ago will have to be replaced, but 2018 leading tacklers Aaron Mazzell and Braden Briatico are back at linebacker and the secondary should be loaded with athleticism.
"They'll be ready to play every Friday night, so we're excited about that group, too," said Hamilton.
An increase in turnovers forced is a big goal for South Aiken, which has been its best when it's played opportunistically over the last few years.
The T-Breds' schedule opens with consecutive road games against former head coach Dan Pippin and Greenwood, Lakeside (Georgia) and then Strom Thurmond. The non-region portion of the schedule ends with home games with Hamilton ties against Lexington and Westwood, and then the Region 5-AAAA grind begins against Aiken at the Stomping Grounds. Two more consecutive road games, at Brookland-Cayce and North Augusta, will have major region title implications.
That's one of Hamilton's goals every year, and this time around it will be an experienced group chasing a championship.