The underdog card won't be an option in 2005.
With 11 total starters returning (five offensive, six defensive) from a 15-1 team the preseason 2A polls are starting to roll in with the Stallions listed as the consensus number one ranked team.
"We just have to step it up another notch," said Antwone Harris. "There's a target on our backs' now. We just have to play harder every game and take it one game at a time. We just have to make sure the rankings don't get to people's heads."
In addition to his coaching duties, head coach Phil Padgett will continue to keep his squad down to earth. With 179 career wins and three state championships under his belt, Coach Padgett knows a thing or two about dealing with success and expectations.
"Coach Padgett puts us in check during practice," said Dekota Marshall. "He lets us know each and everyday that we can't get big heads. He says we are good athletes, but we could always get better."
Funny thing is you'll be hard pressed to find a team with a better group of athletes in North Carolina.
The headliner of this speedy bunch of athletes is UNC-bound quarterback/cornerback Kendric Burney. The reigning Conference Player-of-the-Year, Burney accumulated 1,441 all-purpose yards and 21 all-purpose touchdowns. On defense he contributed 92 tackles (25 solo), five interceptions and seven pass-deflects.
"Guys will be gunning for me, but you know we have guys like Dekota [Marshall], Cortney [Hatchell]," said Burney. "If they key on me, that's leaving it open for Dekota, Cortney, and T.A. [Tyrone Arrington]. I have a lot of help."
The leader on the defense, linebacker Cortney Hatchell, also returns for his senior season. Last season, Hatchell lead the Stallions in tackles on his way to All-Area and All-Conference honors.
If there is any one piece of Southwest that might get overlooked by opponents this season it's 6-foot-1, 180-pound tailback/cornerback Dekota Marshall, who saw limited time last season. Marshall plays with speed, power, and attitude, and will be ready to take on his feature role this season.
"I just have to step in and be a leader," said Marshall.
In addition to Marshall and Burney, the offense boost speedy tailback "T.A." Tyrone Arrington and tight end Kori Cumberland, while Antwan Harris and Steve Harden hold down the defense.
Filling in the holes left by graduation is a solid junior varsity squad led by lineman Eddie Arrington. Getting those newcomers to click with the current squad is the key to Southwest's success.
"Last year we had a lot of chemistry," said Tyrone Arrington. "This year we have a young team with a lot of the J.V. coming up."
With Southwest's first opponent being 1A East Columbus (1-10 in 2004), the new Stallions will have one game to gel with their veteran counterparts. The following week they host 4A Jacksonville in a revenge game (the Cardinals were the only team to defeat Southwest last season).
Despite last season's loss, the Stallions will be the favorite against Jacksonville, and every other team after including the playoffs. It will be a change for Southwest, but the Stallions are ready for their new role of favorite.