White County spent years building toward last season. With one of the most talented senior classes in the school's history, the Warriors built a foundation strong enough to withstand a season marked by controversy and still come out with the program's best record in 20 years.
Midway through last season, coach Gregg Segraves resigned amid allegations of domestic abuse against his wife. In his absence, assistant coach Tommy Flowers stepped forward and led the team to a Region 8-AAA North championship and a win in the first round of the playoffs.
Now, the aftermath.
The talented senior class graduated, Flowers returned to his role as defensive coordinator, and Bill Ballard was hired away from Peachtree Ridge to fashion the White County program into a consistent contender.
Ballard brings with him a history of success, including an average of nearly 10 wins per season and four 12-win seasons in his nine years as a head coach at Tucker and Peachtree Ridge. But he'll have plenty of work to do to get the Warriors up to that level.
"We're a younger team this year, and I think everybody already knew that," Ballard said. "Losing Ashely Lowery and then losing the quarterback and all the seniors that we had last year, we're having to play with younger people. But now they have their opportunity."
Lowery, the region's Offensive Player of the Year last season after leading the team in rushing yards and tackles, is now at the University of Kentucky. And the quarterback Ballard mentioned, Cole Segraves, is the son of the former coach and now at Colquitt County High School.
That leaves the Warriors with one returning starter on either side of the ball.
Ballard singled out Ryan Kennedy, who started some last year, as a leader in the rebuilt backfield. He'll play at halfback, along with Andrew London, who's returning to football after focusing exclusively on basketball.
Dalton Whitfield, who made a name for himself as a freshman starting at linebacker last season, could also see some snaps on offense, along with Michael Limbaugh, Will Flowers and Coley Loudermilk.
"We're going to be by committee a little bit this year, because a lot of those guys have to play on the defensive side of the ball as well," Ballard said.
Will Brock is the new starter at quarterback in Ballard's spread option scheme. Ballard said the junior signal caller "had a real good preseason," and has "a good bit of talent."
The competition at receiver remains open, though Ballard said his running backs will often serve as targets in the passing game.
On the line, tackle Dannan Sanderson (6-3, 265) and guard Joe Cannon (6-4, 250) hold down the right side. Brett Westmoreland and Jacob Roche will get the starting spot at guard and tackle respectively on the opposite side, while Dylan Freeman starts at center.
Whitfield is the leader of the defense after registering 92 tackles last season. Ballard said the 6-1, 220-pound sophomore could eventually be a college prospect. He'll be joined at linebacker by Flowers and Jeremy McClure.
Seniors Ben McGuire and Justin Grizzle are the standout candidates on the line, while Kennedy and Loudermilk are the top defensive backs.
Ballard also mentioned the return of strong safety Clay Rider, a junior who missed much of last season due to injury.
Tucker Rey, a senior, will get the call for place-kicking duties, Ballard said. Kennedy is the leading candidate at punter.
The Warriors made a big splash by hiring a coach with Ballard's track record, but it could take a while to regroup after losing 10 starters on each side of the ball.
On the other hand, Ballard has never had a losing record in nine seasons, and White County has finished better than .500 every year since 2006.