After just falling short while trying to come back in the 1A DII State Championship Game, the Hodgeman County Longhorns return much of what helped them find success last year.
"Just looking at the strengths of last year's team, (the) offensive line played well and Eli (Salmans) was running the ball well," head coach Matt Housman said. "We have them back so we're obviously interested in doing that again and trying to improve that a little bit more."
The running game should be back this year, but not all of last year's skill-position players are, with the Longhorns having lost four key ones to graduation, Housman said.
"We don't have to find our identity I don't think this year, but we just have to build up the skill players and get back to where we were last year as soon as possible," Housman said.
One of those who graduated was Trevor Morgan, one of the best athletes across sports at Hodgeman County. It won't be easy for the team to take that loss, but Housman said he thinks there are other kids who can hopefully step up.
Another player the team lost was quarterback Jacob Salmans. He started most of the year, but his younger brother Isaac, then a freshman, played in multiple games last year when Jacob had to miss due to injury, so Isaac won't be totally new at the position.
Still, the receiving corps is one of the biggest question marks going into the season, Housman said.
"I think we have the kids and they have the talent, they're just green yet," Housman said. "They haven't been proven in a game yet."
After two years in 8-Man DII, the Longhorns have moved back to 8-Man DI. District assignments were changed going into this year also, and the Longhorns will play in District 6. Their district also includes Kiowa County, Kinsley, South Gray, Ness City and Spearville.
The Longhorns play Spearville Oct. 12 in Hodgeman County.
Housman said he doesn't try and get the team any more pumped up about any one game than any other, so his team is just concerned with week one.
Another strength the team has, besides its running game and the line, is depth. The team battled injuries early last season, Housman said.
"Because of that, a lot of different kids got to start, and a lot of different kids got to play while we were getting healthy again," Housman said. "Hopefully we can have some depth, and I think that'll be a big plus for us is just maybe some depth and inside line play I think will be our biggest strength."