CUTHBERT -- There's a lot of confidence brewing off Highway 266 in Randolph County these days.
It's not just the type of mojo where coaches say maybe they'll win a couple more games this year.
It's that special season type of feeling you get after seeing the look in the Randolph-Clay seniors' eyes
-- all 22 of them.
And all this exuberance is coming from a Red Devils team that went 2-8 last year and still managed to come within one game -- one point actually -- of making the state playoffs.
"It made us hungry," senior lineman Dominique Jackson said of last year's disappointing ending. "We just had to come back and work harder."
Head coach Daniel McFather, now in his second season back home in Cuthbert, saw his team's numbers drop from 55 last year to about 42 this year, but more than half are returning seniors intent on rectifying a season-ending loss to Pelham that kept the Red Devils from the postseason.
"It left a bad taste in the kids' mouths," McFather said. "We got after it in the offseason and went to work in the weight room. We're a lot more physical."
Coaches picked up players, some of whom were just getting off work, each afternoon this summer and hauled them to campus to lift weights.
Senior running back and linebacker Cardaryle Curry says he's seen more dedication from his teammates this year.
"We felt like we let the seniors down (last year)," Curry said.
Senior fullback/linebacker Daniel Mande said there's an increase in "commitment, heart and leadership" throughout the program. These are all catch phrases McFather has imparted on his team.
"Hopefully we can do something if we stay healthy and stay committed," McFather said. "We've got to be ready for the Terrells, the Seminoles, the Millers - those guys."
Indeed, R-C will have to play better to hang with the perennial playoff teams in GHSA Region 1-A. Mitchell County and Stewart County have been added to the region to make things more difficult, but annual headache Clinch County is gone.
Senior running back/outside linebacker Johnny Foster returns to lead the Red Devils' Wing-T offense, along with Curry and Mande. Emmanuel Clay, the starter at safety, will also get carries. An injury to Foster in the final weeks of last season severely hurt R-C's playoff hopes.
"We're way ahead of the game (in year two)," said McFather, who admitted there were some pains in the installation of a new offense and defense in his first season. "We're really going to have to work on our passing game because I know when we run (defenses) are going to put 10, even 11 in the box."
Senior Calvin Paramore is in a quarterback battle with freshman Caleb McFather, the coach's son and brother of last year's starter, Joshua McFather. Paramore is the better runner, McFather the better passer.
Both will see playing time, the head coach said.
R-C beat both Baconton-Charter (28-6) and Calhoun County (14-8) in preseason scrimmages. The Red Devils would have been happy with those early results last year, but after the Calhoun County jamboree, Curry said, "We weren't supposed to give (those eight points) up."
The offensive line returns almost entirely intact and there are receiving weapons in senior tight end Tim Stringer and wideout Dominique Burks. Senior Al'Kawan Sullivan also provides playmaking ability at wide receiver and cornerback.
In Randolph-Clay's 4-4 defense, the linebacking corps returns in full, as does the secondary. Only two or three starters on defense aren't seniors.
If it isn't clear yet, this will be a senior-laden squad that has big hopes in 2010.
"If we're going to do it, we better do it this year," McFather said.