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After advancing to the six-man state championship game three years ago, Highland has fallen on hard times of late, going just 5-14 the past two seasons.
But there were signs late last year that the Hornets were on the verge of turning things around. In fact, a muffed two-point kick at the end of a 43-42 loss to Aspermont in the next-to-last week was all that kept Highland from making it back to the postseason.
The Hornetsâ€™ new four-team district, however, in-cludes two teams (Ira and Rotan) who are ranked in the stateâ€™s preseason top 10 in Division I. Hermleigh is also in the district again.
That, plus the fact that the Hornets have just two seniors and seven freshmen on their 21-player roster, will make getting back to the playoffs a tough propo-sition once again.
Coach Jeff Shelton said his goal is to have his play-ers ready by the time the Oct. 26 opener with Rotan rolls around.
â€śWeâ€™d like to pick up where we were at the end of last year,â€ť he said.
â€śWeâ€™re so young. We know that anything we get as far as making it to the postseason will be gravy because weâ€™ll need a lot of kids who have never seen a varsity game to come through for us. Itâ€™s going to take some time to get where we want to be.â€ť
Highland still has some good talent to build around, however. There are five returning all-district players â€” seniors Ron Covington and Garrett Stewart, jun-iors Peyton Howard and Michael Hyde and sophomore Shelby Howard.
The offense gets a slightly new look as Covington has been moved from quarter-back to tailback, with junior Ethan Wilson taking over behind center. Hyde will also play tailback and both Howards will be at fullback, though Peyton is recovering from a leg injury.
The center will be Stewart or sophomore Zack Cornett and the ends will be sopho-more Gaga Soedarsono and freshman Seth Wood, with juniors Kaden Nachlinger and Laramie Thompson and sophomore Kevin Box all competing at receiver.
Shelby Howard and Soed-arsono will be competing with Cornett and Stewart on the defensive in Highlandâ€™s 2-3 setup, with Hyde at linebacker and Covington, Box and freshman Jacob Richburg competing for the two cornerback slots. The Hornets will use Wilson and another freshman, Eli Shel-ton, at safety.
Coach Shelton, who said he expects a lot of competition for positions, has lined up a very tough non-district slate. Five of Highlandâ€™s seven opponents won at least eight games in 2011.