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Head coach Brian Thomas and his region champion North Augusta Yellow Jackets hit the field Friday for the first day of practice ahead of the 2019 high school football season.

North Augusta football coach Brian Thomas has a little bit of a problem at his football stadium.

The sign enumerating the Yellow Jackets' region and state championships reached its bottom-right corner after 2017, meaning something will have to be done to make room for the 2018 champs and beyond.

It's a good problem to have for Thomas, who leads a North Augusta program that expects to add to that sign every year. 

"We talked about it this summer – the standard," he said. "I think we've had a few kids this summer that kind of got away from it a little bit, and I told these guys 'It's your job to hold them to the standard. Y'all know what the standard is.'

"It doesn't change. We don't set goals – we set standards. That's what we expect to do every year. We expect to be in the running for the championship for region every year. That's not gonna change. We've just got new faces, new names, and we'll just keep on moving. That's all we can do."

The Yellow Jackets won their second consecutive Region 5-AAAA title last year while posting a 10-3 record that included a six-game winning streak that bled into the playoffs. That streak, and North Augusta's season, ended with a loss at Hartsville in the Lower State semifinals.

There's one big question North Augusta will have to answer this season, but it's one the Yellow Jackets seemingly always solve: How are they going to replace the prolific production of their departed seniors?

Off to college is probably the state's best trio of linebackers – Aiken Standard Defensive Player of the Year Caree Collier, Chris Torres and Derian Gibson – from a year ago, as is quarterback Tanner White, the Aiken Standard Offensive Player of the Year.

So who are the next household names at North Augusta? Thomas listed Cole Saggus, Justin Merriweather and Eli Jarrard as players he expects to capably fill the void at linebacker, and quarterback Bradley Godwin has started games and taken plenty of quality snaps over the last two years. 

Expectations are high. But then again, that's just how it is at North Augusta.

Jacari Buckson is back at running back after eclipsing 1,000 yards as a sophomore, and Thomas said Buckson spent the offseason working even harder and getting better coming into this season. 

Punishing pass rusher Charles Hammond returns to the defensive line after recording 14 tackles for loss and 8½ sacks last year as a junior, and he's expected to provide a lot of leadership in addition to playing up to the high bar he's set.

There are still pieces of the puzzle for the Yellow Jackets to fit before opening the season at Georgia opponent Thomson. The two-time defending region champions then face Georgia foes Evans and Grovetown before finishing off the non-region schedule with Blythewood and Strom Thurmond.

Then it's back to the Region 5-AAAA slate, where Yellow Jackets will try to give the sign maker another year to add to their total. After all, that is the standard at North Augusta.

Kyle Dawson covers sports for the Aiken Standard. Follow him on Twitter @ItsKyleDawson.