This is the ninth in a series of stories on high school football teams in the Bi-City area. Coming Monday: Columbus
It was a tale of two seasons for Northside High a year ago.
The Patriots started the season off strong, going 4-0, before losing five of their final six games to miss the playoffs.
Heading into 2012, the goal for the team is clear.
"We want to finish what we started," said senior offensive lineman Clayton McCullar. "We had a great start last year, but we couldn't finish it out. We're just trying to get over that hump this year and make sure we can finish what we start."
The problems in 2011 began in the fifth game of the season against Thomas County Central and continued for the rest of the season.
With the exception of a 41-14 win over Hardaway, Northside did not score more than 12 points in a game after the four-game winning streak. Meanwhile, the defense fell off as well, allowing more than 30 points in four of the final six games.
Senior defensive lineman James Young said he thought that the team got ahead of itself after a strong start to the season.
"I think after the first four games, we weren't playing as a team," he said. "We weren't playing as one heart, one beat. We just got off track. We thought we could beat anybody, and we needed a reality check."
The reality check came, and it seems to have done the trick.
McCullar said the team came together in June to put in work and hasn't slowed down.
"I think we're all buying into the same plan now," he said. "That's important."
Running back Kendrick Smith said there has been an emphasis on speed and conditioning in practice to prepare the team for the long season.
"We've had an upbeat tempo," he said. "We're trying to be more fast-paced. We want to be more conditioned than other teams. We're a little bit smaller team this year, so we have to play fast."
Still, coach Paul Cates isn't getting ahead of himself. He knows this is a team one year removed from a devastating late-season swoon. He also knows it's a program that has had just one winning season (9-3 in 2005).
"Things progress the same way every year," he said. "There are some good things you do, and then there's some bad too. There are holes that you've got to fill. It's just a matter of getting enough of those holes filled to have a successful team."
Cates and Young singled out the running backs as a position where holes appear to be few, if present at all. Cates likes who the Patriots have in Smith and Brady Pitts.
"Our running back situation should be pretty strong this year," Cates said.
He also likes that he has his leading tackler back in linebacker Tyler Pouliot, especially because the rest of the linebacker corps will be new. But he thinks Pouliot will help them progress on the field.
"He's got the experience to make all the calls out there," Cates said. "He gets everyone lined up right."
Smith said the team still has a good way to go.
"Everybody needs work," he said. "Every spot. Everyone's got to work harder regardless of age, experience or anything."
And when the season starts, he expects the improvement to show.
"We need to do better than last year," he said. "That's our expectation."
David Mitchell, 706-571-8571
Head coach: Paul Cates
Region: Region 1-AAAAA
Last season's record: 5-5, 2-5 in Region 1-AAAA
Last season's playoff record: 0-0SCHEDULE
Aug. 30 Shaw (K) 7 p.m.
Sept. 6 at Jordan (M) 7 p.m.
Sept. 14 at Houston County 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 21 Columbus (K) 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 28 Russell County (K) 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 12 at Thomas County Central 7: 30 p.m.
Oct. 19 at Harris County 7: 30 p.m.
Oct. 26 Bainbridge (M) 7:30 p.m.
Nov. 2 at Lee County 7:30 p.m.
Nov. 8 Hardaway (K) 7 p.m.