FORT VALLEY -- Donald Pittman has gotten the question before, and the answer always has been pretty similar.
Almost regardless of the situation, the Fort Valley State football head coach tends to be optimistic.
This time around, his Wildcats have more volunteer coaches than full-time coaches, are completely new in the kicking game, are at home only three times all season -- and not until October -- and break in yet another new -- but old -- quarterback.
And the NCAA Division II national champion awaits. So, hows everything going?
You know what Im going to say, Pittman said with a smile. Im going to say everything is going great.
The Wildcats are starting the season a week later than the rest of the nation, which would be considered a good thing, except for the fact that Valdosta State is doing the same thing.
The two open the season at 2 p.m. on Saturday at Henderson Stadium.
On paper, this is already a unique season for the Wildcats.
Their starting quarterback was dismissed three years ago with a game left in the season after an arrest on a variety of misdemeanor charges, some connected to a previous arrest, and he is now back.
They returned from the Christmas break after a quality 2012 season that ended with a playoff berth to find out the majority of the coaching staff had been laid off for financial reasons. And there was talk about somewhat drastic measures that might be taken regarding FVSU athletics related to university money issues.
Spring practice was conducted by Pittman, a few full-time assistants and plethora of volunteers, and that continued in August.
Yet things have gone smoothly, with actually more coaches working with players, except that a bunch arent really getting paid for it.
When we let those coaches go, I thought it was going to be a disaster, Pittman said. And a lot of people did, (too). But it couldnt have worked out any better. Theyre here full-time. These guys are putting in the hours.
Junior defensive back Tracey White said this is the most unified team and staff since he has been at FVSU.
The coaching staff now and the players now, I think theyve all come together, he said. As for a couple years ago, you had people over here, people over there. Now, I think we all got it. Coaches and players, weve got to come together.
Smith is technically a new quarterback, although he was the signal-caller of record during the 8-2 regular-season of 2010 that ended with a loss in the Pioneer Bowl. Being older can go both ways physically, but it has been a positive mentally.
He came to camp in excellent condition, Pittman said. He remembered the system. So its just like he never left.
Except he certainly did, after an arrest in Butler for a variety of charges ranging from possession of less than an ounce of marijuana to a taillight violation. That followed a charge the preceding August of an expired tag, the license not matching the car and a misdemeanor possession charge.
Pittman liked Smith then, even after having to boot him, and that hasnt changed.
He found a fountain of youth, Pittman said. Hes focused, and hes set some goals for himself, and he seems to be focusing on it.
FVSUs defense will have to carry an offense breaking in more new players than returning them. But the unit is loaded, as preseason practice has showcased.
Very good, White said. The whole unit.
White said no specific part of the defense is really any better than any other part.
The defense will be a lot better than last year, said White, one of about a dozen or so returnees with quality experience. Top five in the nation. Thats why I believe.
Of course, that belief will be severely tested Saturday against an offense that was 21st nationally in rushing, 46th in passing and 17th in passing efficiency in 2012 and one that put more than five dozen points on the board in a 62-14 win over the Wildcats.
Fundamental stuff, White said of this years goals and last years issues. Last year, we had a lot of turnovers, gave up a lot of big plays. We take those out, were easily in the game.