Walnut Ridge hasn't endured a losing season since Byron Mattox's first year as coach in 2006, but the past two seasons have been unlike most since he took over.
In addition to making consecutive playoff appearances for the first time during his tenure, the Scots have experience and depth that rivals any in the City League, in which programs continually battle with dwindling participation numbers.
Most importantly to Mattox and players such as senior Qian Magwood, a standout at wide receiver and defensive back, the mindset throughout the locker room is a winning one.
"I feel like everything has a good feeling in the building and we're ready to work," Magwood said. "It's more of a tradition now. People are more of a brotherhood and they're starting to believe in it. When you've got guys that you can depend on, it feels good, and we can have the same thing here."
The Scots have put together back-to-back 9-2 finishes, the first of which in 2017 included a playoff victory.
Last fall, Walnut Ridge lost one regular-season game and earned the eighth and final playoff seed in a deep Division II, Region 7 in which six programs that posted a 7-3 record or better failed to make the postseason.
In the first round of the playoffs, the Scots lost to eventual state runner-up Massillon Washington 45-14.
This year, they'll tackle an identical regular-season schedule that included blowout non-league wins over Mifflin (55-7), Watkins Memorial (55-7) and Beechcroft (41-6) before enduring their only regular-season loss to Eastmoor Academy (26-20) in Week 5 in what ultimately determined the City-South Division title.
Now in Division II, Region 8, which features teams from central and southwest Ohio, Walnut Ridge has several players who will be three-year starters.
Magwood, who has offers from a list of schools that includes Ball State, Cincinnati, Eastern Michigan, Miami University and Toledo, is among those players.
"I like where we're at going into this season," said Mattox, whose team opens Aug. 30 at home against Mifflin.
"Guys were active in other sports and lifting weights, so we want to build on that. I feel like we've got a good corps returning. The junior and senior classes are very strong. We want to win the (City-South). Usually if you win the South you make it to the playoffs. We want to build on what we did last year. We've got kind of a sour taste going out in the first round last year. We want to make these seniors go out with a bang."
Walnut Ridge will have a new quarterback but has veterans throughout the rest of the offense.
Junior Javarus Leach returns at running back after rushing for 1,098 yards and 14 touchdowns on 122 carries and adding 12 receptions for 216 yards and one score.
Magwood is the top returning receiver after finishing with 31 receptions for 620 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Senior Jerrell Harrison, who had 21 catches for 193 yards and two scores, is among a tight-end corps that could go six deep, according to Mattox.
That group includes senior Kaveon Ross, a transfer from Hamilton Township who had 42 receptions for 565 yards and eight touchdowns last season.
Seniors Marshawn Mankins and Antonio Tucker and juniors Seven Harper and Ja'Quan Whitted are others who could see time at tight end or receiver.
Senior Aaron Clark and junior Damien Whaley should be among the contributors in the passing game.
Junior Howard Thornton is expected to take over at quarterback for 2019 graduate Isaiah Murphy, who is at Notre Dame College after throwing for 1,985 yards with 29 touchdowns with three interceptions last season.
Senior Daeonn Hooper, a transfer from COF Academy, also could see time at quarterback.
Senior James Miller (LT), junior Mario McRae (RG) and junior Jamarius Dinkins (LG) all are returning starters on the line. Junior Orlando Duncan will be at center, with junior T'Khi Jordan at right tackle.
Senior Sihlas Padmore and Clark are safeties who should join Magwood, a cornerback, in what figures to be a deep secondary, where juniors Daaron Brown, William Felts, Cross Mack, Malik Tate and Landon Young also should contribute.
Tucker is a Hartley transfer who should be an immediate contributor at linebacker, where Harrison, Leach and Mankins are key returnees. Mankins is an inside linebacker who had 75 tackles last season, Harrison will line up outside after making 50 tackles and Leach will be inside after contributing 60 tackles.
Dinkins and McRae are at tackle with Miller and Whitted at end.
Junior Howard Thornton likely will be the kicker after making five extra points in limited duty last season, but Magwood could see time at that position as well as at punter.
Mack was among the punters last season and should be again this fall.
Magwood also should be among the returners with Felts and junior Damien Whaley.
Quarterbacks: *Howard Thornton (jr., 6-1, 185), Daeonn Hooper (sr., 6-3, 220)
Running backs: *Javarus Leach (jr., 5-9, 200), Antonio Felts (so., 5-9, 210), Myles Garrett (jr., 6-2, 200)
Receivers: *Aaron Clark (sr., 5-10, 155), *Qian Magwood (sr., 6-0, 175), *Damien Whaley (jr., 5-8, 180), William Felts (jr., 5-10, 160), Malik Tate (jr., 5-8, 150)
Tight ends: *Jerrell Harrison (sr., 6-2, 185), Seven Harper (sr., 6-3, 190), Marshawn Mankins (sr., 6-3, 195), Kaveon Ross (sr., 6-5, 225), Antonio Tucker (sr., 6-2, 210), Ja'Quan Whitted (jr., 6-2, 215)
Linemen: *Jamarius Dinkins (jr., 6-5, 245), *Orlando Duncan (jr., 5-8, 210), *T'Khi Jordan (jr., 6-3, 295), *Mario McRae (jr., 5-10, 230), *James Miller (sr., 6-3, 220), Ras Anderson (jr., 6-3, 230), Mekhi Vance (so., 6-0, 210)
Linemen: *Dinkins, *Miller, *Whitted, McRae
Linebackers: *Harrison, *Leach, *Mankins, *Tucker, Antonio Felts
Secondary: *Daaron Brown (jr., 5-11, 170), *Clark, *Magwood, *Sihlas Padmore (sr., 5-10, 180), William Felts, Cross Mack (jr., 5-10, 160), Malik Tate (jr., 5-8, 150), Landon Young (jr., 5-10, 155)
Kickers: *Thornton, Magwood
Punters: Magwood, Mack
Returners: *William Felts, *Magwood, *Whaley
Long snapper: *Harper
(*Denotes projected starter)