MOUNT STERLING, Ill. -- It's been a while. Fifteen years, in fact.
The last time the Brown County football team had to learn to pick itself up was after the 2003 season in which it went 2-7. A five-victory season followed and started a run of 10 straight playoff appearances and 13 postseason bids in a 14-season span.
So what will be the encore for last fall's 2-7 campaign and winless season in the Western Illinois Valley Conference North Division?
Hornets coach Tom Little believes it could be another special turnaround, based solely on the effort and enthusiasm he is seeing in practice.
The Hornets also have talent and experience to help guide the way.
"These guys have always set their expectations high," Little said. "They want to be a good team, and last year, we just didn't accomplish that. Those guys want to redeem themselves. They want to have that unbelievable experience of winning week in and week out.
"Hopefully if they put in the work, they can get there."
The most noticeable aspect of improved effort has been the competitiveness of the scout team.
"They're giving us a lot better looks, competing and even fighting for jobs based on what they're showing us," Little said. "It just didn't seem like we had that same competitiveness helping us get ready for games last year.
"So we've been really impressed that guys want to be starters and they'll do whatever it takes to show it on the scout team."
It's going to make an offensive line that returns four starters up its game.
The Hornets scored two or fewer touchdowns in seven of their nine games and averaged only a little more than 200 yards per game. A lot of that had to do with a young, inexperienced team, but they return seniors Dylan Roberts and Chase McClelland and juniors Chance Fuqua and Lars Reische to plow the way. They average 6-foot, 220 pounds and can be physical.
"They had a great weight room in the offseason," Little said. "They've gotten bigger and stronger and they understand the speed at which they will be playing at. I think that's a strong point for us."
Senior quarterback Mason Buss returns, although sophomore Tate Fullerton could figure in the mix. The Hornets will use a bevy of backs like they always have, and they will figure out how to incorporate Nathan Hendricker into the offense.
An all-state caliber basketball player, Hendricker is playing football for the first time and could be the tight end target that sets this offense apart.
And with an improved defense, it could be the right recipe to get things back on track.
"The kids still believe we know what we're doing," Little said. "In practice, they are asking questions and trying to get better. They are relying on the coaches to get them the most prepared they can be. The way our coaches get kids to buy in is crucial to our success."
Inside the huddle
Who: Brown County Hornets
2018 record: 2-7 (0-5 Western Illinois Valley Conference North).
Coach: Tom Little (114-64 at Brown County, 18th season).
Players to watch: QB Mason Buss, 5-10, 160, Sr.; RB/LB Wyatt Fink, 5-10, 180, Sr.; OL/LB Chance Fuqua, 6-0, 215, Jr.; OL/DL Dylan Roberts, 5-11, 220, Sr.
Schedule: Aug. 30 vs. Pleasant Hill; Sept. 6 at Carrollton; Sept. 13 at Central; Sept. 20 vs. Beardstown; Sept. 27 at Jacksonville Routt; Oct. 4 at Unity-Payson; Oct. 11 vs. Triopia; Oct. 18 at Winchester West Central; Oct. 25 vs. Greenfield-Northwestern.