QUINCY -- Almost every time Ron Bridal is asked to assess the Quincy High School boys soccer team, his response is the same.
"We're going to score some goals," he says.
What the second-year head coach doesn't always elaborate on is how encouraged he is by the progress the Blue Devils made defensively throughout the offseason and the two weeks leading up to Friday's season opener against Ladue Horton Watkins in the first game of the QND/Quincy Recycle Tournament.
"The thing that stands out the most is they are keeping themselves accountable for what they're doing," Bridal said. "Their work rate has been really high, and I think you can point to the leadership we have at all levels to keep each other accountable."
The leadership of Grant Higgins and Nolan Nuttelman is showing.
Higgins, a senior center back who was an all-sectional selection last season, and Nuttelman, a senior wing back, are the lone returning starters defensively. They have been part of the varsity rotation since they were freshmen. Their presence is undeniable.
"Our main job is to make everyone feel comfortable," Higgins said. "We don't need any questions to be asked. What I mean by that is we all know what we need to do and need to hold each other accountable."
That's easy to do when no one is slacking.
"Our intensity is our best attribute," Higgins said. "Our work ethic is off the charts from what I've seen. I think that's going to help us carry our game to the next level."
Experience helps with that, too.
"It boosted that intensity," Higgins said. "We've been talking about how hard we need to bring our intensity to practice so we can transfer for that to the field during a game."
Sophomore Zach Nuttelman and junior Blake Peter are battling for the other starting center back spot, and senior Nathan Reichert will play the other wing.
As long as those playing alongside Higgins and Nolan Nuttelman match that intensity, it takes pressure off senior keeper Jake Happel, who got varsity playing time under his belt from late last season. He solidified his role with a strong summer and even better preseason.
"Jake's confident in his abilities," Higgins said. "He knows what he's got, and we're confident in him. I think that's going to show."
Despite the confidence and the abundance of talent offensively, the defense knows better than to relax.
"It pressures us more," Higgins said. "It holds us to a different standard. Yes, they're going to score goals, but we can't allow any goals. We have to make them count. For each goal we score, we have to make it last. We can't let it be easy on an opponent just because we know we can score."
The Blue Devils figure to score goals.
Senior all-state forward Jaeden Smith scored 30 goals last season, including at least one in 13 of the Blue Devils' first 14 games. He scored in each of the final four games and could finish his career among the top five goal scorers in program history.
His speed and finishing ability are huge assets, but his confidence is his best attribute.
"If we don't score first, we know we'll be OK," Smith said. "We know we can score. We know we have goal scorers up top. We know people can contribute in all kinds of ways."
Senior forward Robby Phillips was an all-sectional selection last season, and senior midfielder Jack Bartley is a capable distributor and attacker.
"Connecting our defense to our offense is key to our success," Smith said. "We want to get everyone involved."
They will have to do so to make a run in the Class 3A postseason.
"We've been practicing hard, because we know how difficult our competition and our schedule can be," Smith said. "We're excited to see what we can do."
At a glance
Coach: Ron Bridal (15-8 at QHS, second season).
2017 record: 15-8 (lost to Collinsville 2-1 in Class 3A regional).
Returning starters: F Jaeden Smith, Sr.; F Robby Phillips, Sr.; MF Jack Bartley, Sr.; D Grant Higgins, Sr.; D Nolan Nuttelman, Sr.
Other returning letterwinners: F Bromley Brown, Jr.; F Nick Kelley, Jr.; MF Brady Peter, Jr.; MF Ashtyn Erwin, Sr.; D Blake Peter, Jr.; D Nathan Reichert, Sr.; D Drew Figge, Sr.; GK Jake Happel, Sr.
New faces: GK Frank Heck, Soph.; D Evan Rueter, Jr.; D Zach Nuttelman, Soph.; F Caleb Nicholson, Soph.
Key losses: MF Jordan McNay, MF Harrison Fey, D Alex Watson, GK Mark Cleveland, MF Harrison Rosen.
Schedule: Aug. 24 vs. Ladue at QND Tournament, 6 p.m.; Aug. 25 vs. Jacksonville at QND Tournament, 8:30 a.m.; Aug. 25 vs. Helias at QND Tournament, 12:30 p.m.; Aug. 27 vs. Belleville East, 6 p.m.; Sept. 1 at Alton, 12:30 p.m.; Sept. 4 vs. United Township, 6:30 p.m.; Sept. 6 at Quincy Notre Dame, 6:30 p.m.; Sept. 8 vs. Jefferson City, noon; Sept. 10 vs. Springfield at Illinois College, 5 p.m.; Sept. 11 at Galesburg, 6:30 p.m.; Sept. 15 at Chatham Glenwood, 5 p.m.; Sept. 18 at Rock Island, 6:30 p.m.; Sept. 20 vs. Jacksonville, 6:30 p.m.; Sept. 25 at Rock Island Alleman, 5 p.m.; Sept. 27 vs. St. Thomas Aquinas at Burlington, Iowa, 4 p.m.; Sept. 28-29 at Go 4 the Goal Fall Classic in Burlington, Iowa; Oct. 2 vs. Moline, 6:30 p.m.; Oct. 6 at Normal West, 12:30 p.m.; Oct. 11 vs. Quincy Notre Dame, 6:30 p.m.