It is tempting to say the real strength of Southern Durham's 2010 squad is best exemplified by its 13-12 late-minute loss to eventual state 4-A champion Durham Hillside.
But Spartans coach Adrian Jones said a better way to evaluate last year's club is its determination.
The Spartans finished with a 6-7 overall record after losing their first six games.
"What I look at is that we lost our first six games, all of them close, but had enough character to come back and win six in a row," Jones said. "There are not many teams that could do that. I was as proud of that bunch as I could be.
"We learned a lot last year. It wasn't the kind of experience that you want, but I think we're better because of what we learned."
Southern could have been crushed by its opening schedule and six losses by a touchdown or less. The loss to Hillside, when the Hornets stopped a potential game-winning two-point conversion, could have sapped the spirit of a lesser group.
But it didn't.
"Playing all those good teams early helped us," Jones said. "Our kids had to grow up. I think we did."
This year's early schedule is about as daunting, but Jones feels his club, led by quarterback Dorian Belcher and wide receiver Darren Bullock, has matured. The offensive line returns intact and should be the strength of the club.
Defensively, safety Trey Lucas III and cornerback Reggie Price have been outstanding in workouts this summer.
"Only one team really physically pounded us," Jones said, referring to a 38-7 playoff loss to Southeast Raleigh. "We didn't respond well to some adversity and Southeast just stuck it to us. We've watched that tape several times and talked about when something good happens, you play hard; when something bad happens, you play hard.
"We showed a lot of character last year. It made us tougher. I think we're going to have a very good football team."