KATHLEEN -- Early in 2010, David Bruce jumped into the unknown.
He was among the hundreds of firsts at Veterans, in this case the school’s initial football head coach and athletics director.
And he was in a highly competitive county with plenty of talent.
The expected baby steps of a new football program have turned into sprints, with the Warhawks making the GHSA Class AAAA playoffs in their fourth year of competition.
Veterans knocked off name programs like Westside, Mary Persons and Baldwin as part of an eight-game winning streak and a region championship.
There’s little old on the sprawling, still-new-looking campus, seven miles from Houston County and nine from Perry, except for 2013. It’s old news.
“You’ve got something to live up to now,” Bruce said. “We need to prove that last year was the result of hard work and not the result of any kind of blind luck.
“It’s definitely heightened expectations. That’s the first step in building tradition: expectations.”
Veterans opens the season as a favorite in Region 2-AAAA, not just a contender. Westside and Rutland are gone, and Upson-Lee joins the region. The Warhawks lost quality players, but as a young program, plenty of players got snaps.
The focus of opponents will be quarterback Logan Byrd, a tough and heady junior who emerged as a budding star as a sophomore on a team that was fundamentally sound and hungry.
Byrd passed for seven touchdowns and nearly 1,400 yards last season, and he ran for another 280 and eight touchdowns. But he has a linebacker mentality, and is likely to be even more of a threat on the ground this season.
Bruce smiles while talking about a play last year where Byrd won the mental battle against a standout defender, who sort of avoided being in position to make a play.
“He didn’t want none,” Bruce said with a hearty laugh. “I wouldn’t want that big sucker coming at me, either.”
The Warhawks lost some depth in the backfield but return Desjuan Harris, who ran for more than 700 yards.
Cortez Broughton is now a freshman offensive tackle at Cincinnati, but Veterans returns Devin Wingate, Logan Hurless, Nate Lee and Nathan Burch, a foursome that averages 278 pounds on an average 6-foot-2 frame.
“We’ve got a little bit of beef up there,” Bruce said. “Our offensive line has a chance to be very good.”
Bruce is a defensive-minded coach, but that he returns four offensive linemen inspires him to peek over there during practice.
“I’ll tell you what,” he said, a twinkle in his eye. “If them cats are good, that makes everything good.”
There’s experience up front and in the secondary on defense. D.J. Rozier and Rashaad Bolton top the defensive backs, while returning starters Jamar Simmons and Sam Dumas are all-region quality up front.
“Everybody else, other than those two linebackers, we’ve got quality starts, quality reps out of everybody else,” Bruce said. “I think we can be pretty good on defense.”
The Warhawks survived an 0-3 start a year ago, opening against Warner Robins, Northside and Harris County. Those three opponents have been replaced by Houston County, Macon County and Washington County, followed by a trip to Valdosta.
That’s not much of a dropoff, considering Houston County and Macon County are teams with momentum, and Washington County reached the Class AAA championship game.
“Confidence is such a big thing,” Bruce said. “People underplay it, but without confidence, it’s hard to complete anything. We finally have a little confidence now, and we feel like we belong on the field. We’re not hoping to win anymore; we’re expecting to win.”
VETERANS IN 2014
Head coach: David Bruce (21-31 in five seasons overall; 17-25 in four seasons at Veterans).
2013 record: 8-4.
2014 region: GHSA 2-AAAA
Returning starters: 5 on offense; 7 on defense.
Players to watch: Rashaad Bolton (6-2, 210, Sr., DB); DJ Rozier (5-10, 17, Sr., DB); Jamar Simmons (6-3, 275, Sr., DT); Logan Byrd (6-3, 230, Jr., QB); Nate Lee (6-5, 310, Jr., C).
Aug. 28 at Houston County
Sept. 5 at Macon County
Sept. 12 Washington County
Sept. 19 at Valdosta
Oct. 3 Baldwin
Oct 10 at West Laurens
Oct. 17 Perry
Oct. 24 at Mary Persons
Oct. 31 Howard
Nov. 7 Upson-Lee