Leesville Road has averaged 10 football wins a season for the past five years and narrowly missed getting double-digit victories last season.
The Pride finished 9-3, and the three losses were by a combined 13 points. Middle Creek ousted Leesville 41-40 in the first round of the playoffs.
Many of the players who led the successes of the past have graduated. Chad Smothers, a veteran football assistant who is replacing former head coach David Green, has plenty of new faces.
"The key for us the past few years has been kids working hard and stepping up," Smothers said. "We've had guys who we were not playing big roles one season, mature and become good players for us the next year.
"That's going to be the key for us again this year."
The team started bonding early with a community project. The players jammed food into backpacks and delivered them to the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle for distribution to children in need.
"This was something the kids did on their own," Smothers said. "The community supports us, and we wanted to support our community. All the credit goes to the kids."
The Pride has a strong football nucleus to build around, including fleet Austin Berrios, who was an all-conference wide receiver but is moving to quarterback. "Obviously, that change is going to be a key," Smothers said.
D.J. Hunt (1,129 yards in 2010), another all-league pick, should be able to run this year behind returning line starters Brendden Lough, another all-conference pick; Brad Davenport and Alec Triggiano. The defense features veterans safety Braxton Berrios, who was all-conference last year as a freshman; end Lough; and linebacker Jake Woodrow.
A year ago, Leesville dropped its opener to Panther Creek but had time to improve against five straight opponents who combined for eight wins during season. The Pride was rolling by the time it got to its league games and averaged 37 points in conference outings.