KATHLEEN -- The good news is that David Bruce and Logan Byrd both have a healthy sense of humor.
The bad news is how the 2014 season tested both.
Even with a difficult non-region schedule, the Veterans Warhawks were favorites in GHSA Region 2-AAAA, their reputation enhanced by the presence of Byrd, a major-college prospect.
Instead, the Warhawks never really got going and managed only three wins and a quick trip to the playoffs.
“Consistency is what we’ve got to get better at,” Bruce said. “Some games, we played well, and we did the little things right. Other games, we’d get out there, and it looked like we had never played football before. That’s all the way up through the coaching staff.”
So the Warhawks are preparing for the season of redemption rather than revenge (except for games with Mary Persons and Houston County).
“We did lose 22 seniors the year before,” said Byrd, who has committed to North Carolina. “We played guys with little to no experience. I think for the amount of experience we had and what we were dealing with schedule-wise -- one of the hardest schedules in Georgia -- we did decent.”
Bruce regularly jokes about firing the schedule-maker: himself.
The Warhawks open the season with Houston County, Macon County, Washington County and Valdosta. That foursome combined for a 42-9 record last year with a state finalist and quarterfinalist in the group.
But the Warhawks couldn’t build on an 8-4 record of 2013 that included the program’s first playoff trip and playoff win.
“The year before, 2013, when the play had to be made, we made the play,” Bruce said. “When we had to have that stop on defense, we got it. We played good solid defense.”
Then came 2014, a 0-4 non-region start during which the Warhawks were outscored 150-36 and an offense that took a step back point-wise in each of those games capped by a 34-0 loss at Valdosta. Region play wasn’t a sigh of relief.
“Baldwin, we let them drive down the field in the last two minutes of the game and score with 22 seconds left,” Bruce said. “That’s a killer. Busted coverages, all those different things contributed to it.
“Same thing with West Laurens. We were playing tough with them, had several busted coverages.”
The Warhawks lost 22-19 and 28-23 in those games, then won three of four, beating Upson-Lee in the regular-season finale to keep the seven-win Knights from the postseason.
Byrd has been around for both seasons. The hype after his sophomore season was followed by a junior season that was a step back statistically.
“I think youth is a big part,” Byrd said. “Once you get under those lights and you haven’t been underneath those lights before, it’s definitely a different experience for those young guys.
“A couple key guys got hurt, so that set us back, as well.”
Byrd’s completion percentage dropped from 52 percent to 44.5 percent, and his yardage dropped from 1,352 to 1,000. He threw two more interceptions and two fewer touchdowns.
Byrd is a dual-threat quarterback, and his rushing numbers were pretty similar, with 37 more yards and five more touchdowns on nine more carries in 2014.
Three starting offensive linemen are back, as is running back Desjuan Harris, who was 15 yards from a 1,000-yard season rushing last year.
Devin Wingate and Logan Hurless will play on both lines, teaming with Dawson Stephens for a solid defensive line.
Leading tacklers Matthew Hearst and Kori Walker key the linebacker corps.
“I think defensively, we should be a lot better,” Byrd said. “Last year, we started five sophomores. That was definitely a learning experience for those guys.”
A leadership gap also provided a learning experience across the board, an experience the Warhawks don’t expect to repeat.
“We had a select few leaders,” Wingate said. “There just wasn’t that many. That was our fault. We should have stepped up sooner.
“We have a lot more leaders this year. It’s going to be a different mentality when we step on the field.”
ABOUT THE VETERANS WARHAWKS
Head coach: David Bruce (25-39 in six seasons overall; 21-33 in five seasons at Veterans).
Assistant coaches: Steve Ruzic (offensive coordinator); Josh Schuyler (offensive line); Stacey Harden (running backs); Shawn Masters (wide receivers); Scott Lamb (defensive ends); Mike Malcom (defensive tackles); Robby Taylor (linebackers); Marquis Westbrook (defensive backs); Michael Killingsworth (kickers); Matt Hvizdzak (head coach-freshmen); Eric Mack (freshmen); Buddy Deal (freshmen); Kenny Owens (freshmen); Devonte Butler (freshmen); Daniel Bruce (freshmen); Jalen McCarty (freshmen).
Offensive scheme: Multiple spread.
Defensive scheme: Multiple 4-3.
2014 record: 3-8.
Region: GHSA 2-AAAA.
Returning starters: Eight on offense; five on defense.
Players to watch: Logan Byrd (Sr., QB); Isaiah Gray (Sr., WR/DB); Matthew Hearst (Sr., DB); Rochelle Dinkins (Jr., WR); Desjuan Harris (Sr., RB); Kori Walker (Jr. LB); Landon Quarles (Jr., DE/RB); Josh Lee (Jr., LB); Logan Hurless (Sr., DE/OL); Jermall Lucas (Jr., DT); Dawson Stephens (Sr. DT/OL); Nathan Burch (Sr., OL); Devin Wingate (Sr., OL/DT).
Aug. 27 at Houston County
Sept. 4 Macon County
Sept. 11 at Washington County
Sept. 18 at Valdosta
Oct. 2 at Baldwin
Oct. 9 West Laurens
Oct. 16 at Perry
Oct. 23 Mary Persons
Oct. 30 at Howard
Nov. 6 Upson-Lee