AMERICUS -- Americus-Sumter wants its swagger back. The hope is Michael Pollock can help find it.
Since 2004, the Panthers have gone 19-44 after Americus and Sumter high schools were consolidated. Former coach Mark Wilson was ousted last year after four years and now enter Pollock, an assistant at Valdosta High School last season.
"The biggest thing we need to do is get our confidence back," said the 38-year-old Pollock, former coach at Cook County High. "It's been rocked the last few years. Anytime that happens, it's a little bit of a building process."
Two guys who hope Pollock is the fastest contractor in the business, seniors Kyle Champion and Jonathan Battle, were nowhere near the big men on campus they are now when Americus High was winning championships. Champion, a water boy on some of the those top Panther teams, and Battle thought they'd be doing the same by now, but it hasn't happened.
Now, they've got one just season left to do something about it.
"We're going to make it happen this year," Battle said.
Champion then jumped right in with, "We've got to. It's the last go 'round."
Battle, who has offers from Arkansas, Cincinnati and Louisville, said he's 100 percent recovered from last year's knee injury that put him out for the last six games of his junior year. He'll return to his defensive tackle spot and play some fullback in certain packages.
"We got a lot of veterans coming back," said the 6-foot, 290-pound Battle. "A lot of people who believe we can make something happen. Last year, we had a loss of hope. I think it's a different attitude."
Changes began this summer with three-a-day workouts under Pollock.
"This summer was the hardest I ever worked," said Champion, a 6'4, 260-pound monster who will play tight end, defensive end and offensive tackle.
Pollock's west coast offense will be run by a converted safety, but it's not as bad as it sounds. Senior Malik Thomas is an athletic runner with some throwing ability.
"Malik Thomas has really matured even though he's only got one scrimmage under his belt," Pollock said. "He's a real leader that we need."
Junior Jarod Lewis and senior Kedrick Jones will carry the load beginning today in the opener against Liberty County. Thomas will have offensive targets in Dwayne Waters and Jacoby Small, who caught a 47-yard touchdown pass in the preseason scrimmage against Bainbridge.
Defensively, Battle and senior Patrick Fields will lead the Panthers up front. Pollock said the playmaker on defense is senior defensive back Thomas Haugabook, while the biggest surprise has been junior linebacker Joseph Daniels.
"He's come out of nowhere," Pollock said of Daniels. "Right now, he is one of our top five football players. He's had an awesome summer."
Americus-Sumter drops down to GHSA Class AAA, which Pollock believes is the most competitive in the state, and will compete in the tough Region 1-AAA.
"Dropping down, the only break we caught is we don't have to play Northside and Warner Robins," said Pollock, who spent the last few years in Region 1-AAAAA, the SEC of high school football.