HANNIBAL, MO. (WGEM) -- Not only did Hannibal graduate its all-time leading rusher, Shamar Griffith, this year's squad nearly lost its head coach in March when Mark St. Clair announced his retirement.
A week later St. Clair had a change of heart and Monday morning he kicked off his 21st season as leader of the Pirates.
"It's always exciting to start the season. It's like Christmas Eve or Christmas Day," St. Clair said.
"You don't know what you're getting as a present when you open it up, but you get here, you start coaching, and you feel the old fire back."
This year's bunch makes up for a lack of name recognition with players ready to continue a perennial run of success.
"I feel confident. We've been working hard all (summer)," senior Wyatt Waelder said.
"You can't replace some of the talent we lost last year but everybody is going to do their part and play their role."
According to senior Billy Smashey, "I think we'll do pretty good on defense and on offense. We've got some young guys coming up, last year they got the jitters out, (and) this year we can go full throttle. Everybody's grown up a little bit (and) everybody's ready to rock and roll."
Competition seems to be the theme on offense.
Waelder and Gabe Worthington are making their case to start at quarterback, and a handful of running backs are pursuing the most snaps.
Elsewhere, experience up front and explosive receiver Will Whitaker on the outside will help carry the load."
"I think the key for our success this year is just us executing the plays better than we did last year," senior Noah Whelan explained.
"We did lose a lot of good players but we have a lot of people stepping up this year, (and) we're going to have a lot of success."
St. Clair added, "We may not have that big star, like Shamar, but what we have is competition at each level. We think that's going to raise our level quite a bit."
Defensively speaking, the Pirates have size to stop the run and a secondary that might just be the best in the area. It's the middle where St. Clair hopes to see steady improvement.
"They've got to step up. They've got to do the right things (and) they've got to make the right decisions," St. Clair noted.
"We'll get better as the year goes on. We've just to get better in a hurry because our schedule doesn't allow us to sit back and wait."
Waelder says getting up to speed quicker rather than later will be critical.
"Most of the seniors last year led our defense," he said.
"The big part will be learning how to play together and just come together as a group."