Take one look at the Hamilton-Wenham Generals football team in action and you would never guess they posted a 2-8 record last season.
In 2009, the Generals were forced to play their younger athletes as replacements on a roster plagued by injuries. Last year's misfortune is already paying dividends.
"That's the silver lining of having so many guys go down last year," said fifth-year head coach Andrew Morency. "Some of our skill players got time last year when they had to step up so they come in now with that experience and it will help them transition into starters."
The Generals play at home again this week - 1 p.m. on Saturday against Triton, which lost a squeaker 22-21 to Amesbury in week one.
The strength for the Generals on both sides of the ball is indisputable: all three captains and Morency agree the success of the team relies on the play of the linemen.
"We have four returning players on the line, and it's definitely our best area," said senior James Brao. "The running game benefits from a strong line, and it may be the most important part of our team. If the line breaks down, everything else suffers."
Morency understands the crew he sends in the trenches for each game is a rare commodity.
"Jimmy Love and James Brao are both three-year starters," he said. "To have two tackles with that much starting experience is something I've never had as a coach."
A major factor in the success of the Generals will be starting quarterback Dylan Keith, who is expected to be used in various positions depending on formation.
"Dylan has to become a strong game manager out there for this team, and in our first game he really showed his ability to take control," said Morency.
When asked for realistic expectations, the Hamilton-Wenham players showed unwavering confidence despite their poor record last season.
"If we play our absolute best in every game, we can compete for the Cape Ann League (small) title," said Love. "That is if we can play our best football, which means we have to just take each game one at a time."
With the tough competition in the balanced Cape Ann League (small), a league title is a tall order.
"This year, it's pretty much the usual suspects at the top of the league," said Morency when asked about the toughest competition the Generals will face. "Lynnfield are still the champions and we play them late in the season, Amesbury will be good and Newburyport will be in some games this year."
It will take a concerted effort by the team's leaders and its young contributors, a group that includes Trevor Lyons, who has already caught the attention of his captains and coach.
"Trevor is sort of a utility guy for us, he plays all over the field and definitely shows some leadership qualities already as a younger player," said Morency.
"Lyons was an impact player on special teams last year, now he is the backup quarterback, plays defense and can really do it all," said Keith.
The Generals have already begun to build off of a disappointing 2009 with the week one victory in hand and Morency said they are ready for a challenging 2010 campaign.