Coach B.J. Queen has been focusing on the progress he believes has been made over the past year at Columbus West.
Although the Cowboys had low numbers during the preseason, they have a group of returnees that learned about the expectations and style of a new coaching staff last season.
There also has been more competition for positions entering Queen's second season, which he believes is making his nucleus of leaders better following a 1-9 finish.
The Cowboys went 5-5 in 2017 and last endured a losing record in 2013 before earning their only win last season in Week 9 by edging Africentric 15-14.
"Obviously having a year in the system helps," Queen said. "Getting a year in the weight room helps and being sophomores compared to being freshmen helps, too. We're still young, but those kids have 10 varsity games under their belts."
Queen, who is going into his fourth year as an intervention specialist at West, took over the program after coaching Beechcroft to a 5-4 record and a share of the City League-North Division title in 2017.
After using a double-wing offense in the final season under former coach Mike Flusche and continuing in that system last fall, the Cowboys are planning to be more balanced this year in hopes of staying on the field longer.
West was shut out five times and held to six points or fewer four other times last year while giving up an average of 54.1 points.
The Cowboys opened with a 76-6 loss to Uniontown Lake and then followed with losses to Centennial (53-6) and Columbus East (40-6). They have replaced Lake with an opener Aug. 30 at home against Linden-McKinley before playing the Stars and Tigers on the road.
Linden went 0-10 last season.
"Everybody doubts us because of our numbers, but we've definitely got something coming along," senior two-way lineman Nick Cook said. "It's definitely different than what we did last year. We're up to the challenge and have the athletes to do it."
One of West's strongest area's likely will be its offensive line, where seniors Nick Cook and Malakye Toles and sophomore Christian Mounts are returning starters.
Toles lines up at right guard, with Mounts and sophomore Jermaine Barksdale at tackle, Cook at center and sophomore Anthony Harding at left guard.
"Things are coming along pretty well this year," Toles said. "We've made great progress. We've got a few great players coming back and we have the potential to add plays."
Junior Brian Cooper returns at quarterback after splitting time last season with 2019 graduate Jakob Adams, a first-team all-league honoree.
Cook was second-team all-league and Toles made honorable mention.
West is expected to run out of the wing-T but plans to show more shotgun looks, with senior Dalovonte Logan at wing back and senior Shawndez Clark also in the backfield.
Clark was honorable mention all-league last season.
Senior Gabe Austin and junior Amer Hutchinson should lead the receiving corps.
Cook, Mounts and Toles also should be among the team's top defensive players after starting a season ago.
Mounts, who is the team's biggest player at 6-foot-4 and 275 pounds, should be at nose tackle, with Cook and Toles at end.
Harding will be at inside linebacker, with Barksdale, Clark and junior Drake Virgin joining him there.
Leading the secondary will be sophomore Mike Griffin Jr., a second-team all-league honoree last season who is joined at cornerback by Austin and Hutchinson.
Logan and seniors Caleb Allen and Wardell Link all should see action at safety.
According to Queen, the Cowboys have "one of the best in the league" at kicker in junior Basho Arbo, who made two field goals of longer than 30 yards last season and has made a 48-yarder in practice.
Also the team's punter and a second-team all-league honoree, Arbo scored the winning goal as the boys soccer team won the City championship last fall. He's also playing soccer this season.
Cook has returned as the long snapper.
Quarterbacks: *Brian Cooper (jr., 6-0, 190), Wardell Link (sr., 6-0, 170)
Running backs: *Shawndez Clark (sr., 5-8, 200), *Mike Griffin Jr. (so., 5-7, 155), Dalovonte Logan (sr., 6-1, 205)
Receivers: *Gabe Austin (sr., 5-8, 165), *Amer Hutchinson (jr., 5-6, 150), Caleb Allen (sr., 5-9, 165)
Tight end: *Drake Virgin (jr., 5-11, 200)
Linemen: *Jermaine Barksdale (so., 5-9, 210), *Nick Cook (sr., 5-11, 190), *Anthony Harding (so., 5-10, 225), *Christian Mounts (so., 6-4, 275), *Malakye Toles (sr., 5-11, 220), Gabe Casanova (so., 6-1, 225)
Linemen: *Cook, *Mounts, *Toles
Linebackers: *Barksdale, *Clark, *Harding, *Virgin
Secondary: *Austin, *Hutchinson, Allen, Griffin, Link, Logan
Kicker: *Basho Arbo (jr., 5-6, 145)
Returners: *Griffin, *Link, *Logan
Long snapper: *Cook
(*Denotes projected starter)