The past two seasons have strayed from the norm for North Hall under coach Bob Christmas.
In 2010, a streak of eight consecutive winning seasons came to an end when the team notched a 5-5 record. Last year, the Trojans endured their first losing record since 2001.
But with a change in scenery in the new Region 7-AAA comes renewed hope for North Hall.
The Trojans have to contend with Buford, which has won four of the last five Class AA state titles, but they can also count themselves among a number of teams that should contend for one of the remaining playoff spots.
And when the dust settles, they hope to be playing in their first postseason since 2009.
Key to the Trojans’ success this season will be how they adjust to the loss of one of the state’s best running backs, Imani Cross, who will be suiting up for the University of Nebraska this fall.
Christmas said that it is more a matter of adjustment rather than replacement.
"There’s a reason he’s at the University of Nebraska," he said. "He was a big, talented back who had a lot of skills. I don’t know that you replace an Imani, but here’s what we do have: I think we’ve got 8-10 really good high school running backs. We have a good mix in age, none of them huge in size, but they’ve got good strength and good quickness."
The Trojans will miss Caleb Faulkner, who transferred to Lakeview Academy, but David Epps and Destin Bennett will be primary figures at the fullback position.
Bradley Brown will return at quarterback for the Trojans, and Christmas is pleased with the progress the senior has made.
The coach said that he didn’t know that he would have his team throw the ball more, but the strides that Brown has made should allow for the offense to go to the pass more often when defenses focus on the run.
"We always want to take what the defense gives us, so there may be times where we throw it more," he said. "But the ability to throw the ball down the field when they give it to us is important."
Also returning on offense will be senior center Avery Easton, who will be an important piece to opening up the run game.
Last season was a mix of good and bad for the Trojans defense.
There were games, like the 49-0 win over Lumpkin County, in which the Trojans appeared to have everything settled. Other times, like when they allowed 55 points to Gainesville or 54 to Franklin County, when it appeared North Hall had a long way to go.
The common theme among the teams that had success against the Trojans was superior athleticism at the skill positions.
Christmas hopes to see an improvement against those teams by increasing pressure.
The defense features a handful of players that should make that possible.
Undersized but athletic cornerback Andrew Smith leads a defensive backfield that could allow for more freedom to pressure up front. Smith notched three interceptions in 2011 as a sophomore and should be improved this season.
Destin Bennett, who led the team in tackles for a loss last year, and Taylor Rider will lead the charge at linebacker.
Despite the loss of Cross, who lead the team in tackles, Bennett and Rider have the experience to make 2012’s an improved unit.
"This year, we have a good mix between juniors and seniors, and I think that makes a huge difference in consistency," Christmas said. "Young players can play really well, but they aren’t always consistent."
The coach would also like to see his team stay healthier this year to improve continuity. A result of last year’s injuries, however, is that a number of sophomores — Bennett, Smith and Will Cape to name a few — saw plenty of playing time.
Modesto Cruz will return as the kicker this season, while Zac Little and Bradley Brown will contend for the punter job.
Smith and T.J. Tate will split return duties.
In a region with teams of similar skill, North Hall appears to have more than a fighting chance at a playoff spot.
Christmas sees room for improvement before his team is ready to make that leap, however.
"I think we’ve still got a lot of work to do," he said. "I think we’ll continue to find some areas we need to grow in."
If that growth can take place, the Trojans could find themselves back in familiar territory.