CAMERON - Jim Rogers remembers it like it happened yesterday.
Following a 25-24 road loss to Valley in the late 1990s, Garrett O'Neil exited the Cameron locker room and declared 'we will never lose another game.' Thirty-three straight regular-season victories later, O'Neil had become a prophet.
As Rogers begins his 22nd second season roaming the sidelines, he makes no secret he would like to see that type of fire return.
"That's attitude, boy,'' Rogers recalled of O'Neil's proclamation. "We're going to play with an attitude and we're going to coach and practice with an attitude and see what happens.
"It's our job as coaches to get these young men prepared for life. If you can succeed here you're going to succeed in life, is the way I look at it.''
The Dragons finished 5-5 two seasons ago and seemed to have righted the ship. But they duplicated that mark in 2012, which was somewhat of a disappointment.
"Last year we were 5-5 but 18 points away from 8-2. We pointed that out to the kids,'' Rogers said. "I'm 65 and what I've seen in my life and what I see now ... we have a job to see if we can get these guys focused."
Perhaps that won't be an issue with a team that has a number of veterans returning, including junior quarterback Logan Routt (6-foot-9, 220 pounds) who has grown another inch and put on 40 pounds. He threw for more than 1,800 yards and 13 touchdowns last season and Rogers says the coaching staff has already noticed a drastic improvement in terms of the velocity of Routt's passes.
"He's got a whip,'' Rogers waived. "Last year he had touch on his pass, but now we can't even catch it.
"When you have that kind of year as a sophomore, now you're setting yourself up to be asked 'what are you going to do this year?'
"I've never seen a kid come in here more focused."
Routt will be backed by his brother, freshman Trey Routt, who Rogers believes is going to be a good one.
Logan Routt's safety net also returns in the form of senior Hunter Yoders, the team's leading rusher and also its top tackler from his middle linebacking post. Yoders' lineage suggests he's in for even bigger things this fall.
"He had two categories he led in and is a tough kid who has been here,'' Rogers said.
Clayton Ward, who was the team's third-leading rusher, is expected to take on an increased role in the offense.
Cameron admittedly has quite the hole to fill at receiver, with the graduation of Mark Walker. That will be done by committee, at least to start, because nobody had taken charge of the position.
"We're looking at the receivers. Who can do the job?'' Rogers asked.
Getting the first shots figure to be senior Zach Hall who missed last season after tearing up a knee, and Shane Williams, who will become a four-year regular. Among those in contention are junior Alex Baldwin who played mostly reserve ball and special teams on the varsity level, as well as classmate Chris Gouldsberry and the diminutive Dalton Wood.
"He's only 5-4 or 5-5 and weighs 130, but Dalton was a runner-up at 103 at the regional wrestling tournament last year, so that's his mentality," Rogers said. "Dalton's going to get the ball.
"I don't care where it's at; he's here to play."
Of course, an offense is only as good as its line and Rogers and assistant coach Gibbs Davidson were busy in preseason trying to get 10 guys ready to carry that load. Because many of the offensive linemen double on the other side of the ball, a little breather here and there is nice, if not necessary.
"Our goal and our aim is to get as many players ready to play in that opener (as we can). Say, 'hey, go in and give me four plays the best you can and get out. Give him a break so he can go back in,' '' Rogers said. "We've done a little bit of that in practice and I'm kind of impressed.
"We've told them from Day 1 this is what we're going to do, so you're playing time is what you've earned.''
That group will again be led by senior Austin Pegg (6-2, 245), who started every game a season ago. He'll play a guard because in offensive coordinator Eric James' spread offense, it's prefferable to have the beef on the inside and the speed to handle edge rushers at tackle.
"Austin's had a pretty good career for us and could end up being one of the better linemen we've had here in a long, long time,'' Rogers said.
Pegg's cousin, 6-0, 265-pound Mason Shook, is being asked to to step his game up to another level and is penciled in to start. Quinton Burge (5-6, 200) has big shoes to fill at center as he's replacing Dillon Blake, a player Rogers estimates he could count on one hand the number of bad plays Blake had last season.
"Quinton is a kid who can step up and help us,'' the coach said.
Waylon Miller is back at the other guard and is poised for a breakthrough campaign.
Rogers likes what he's seen from a group of sophomore linemen that includes Jared Neehouse, Levi Allman, Devin Pettit and Gage Francis.
"I think by the time they are seniors you are going to hear every one of their names,'' Rogers said. "That's going to be a starting line and they play well together as a unit right now.''
The future looks to be bright with guys like freshman Michael Starcher around. He'll play a combination of running back and receiver.
Sophomore Wyatt Mackey, the long snapper last season, has emerged enough that Rogers said he'll be playing 'somewhere' by the time the season kicks off.
Defensively, Rogers believes coordinator Scott Holt has his unit ready to knock people around.
"We can't just go out and score 35 points a game. It's just not going to happen,'' Rogers said. "'I've always been of the opinion that if you can hold that team down to 13 points, you should beat them.
"We should be able to kick two extra points and score two touchdowns to beat them 14-13, at least.''
Horner, who missed the first three games last season with a broken hand, will be up front at one of the tackle positions and is "one of the strongest kids we've had here,'' according to Rogers. He'll be joined by Shook up the middle.
Logan Routt wants to play both sides of the ball and most likely will start, or at least see reps, at defensive end. Billy Estel has the inside track on the other end.
The linebackers are of course led by Yoders, but by no means is he alone. He'll have company on the inside in the form of Miller, who finished in the top five in terms of tackles last season.
At the outside linebacking posts will be a combination of Williams, who also may move to safety, and Derek Martin, who tore it up after Holt gave him a starting assignment around midseason.
It all gets started today at 5 at Wheeling Island Stadium as the Dragons tackle county rival Bishop Donahue in a McDonald's OVAC Kickoff matchup. Cameron seems to be at an immediate disadvantage because of its school calendar, which prevents two-a-day practices.
"Make plays, not excuses,'' Rogers said. "From the time we play we figure Bishop Donahue, on their practice schedule, will have had three times as many hours in as we've had.
"The only way to overcome that is through attitude."
Jesse Aston, Zach Hall, Brady McCroy, Waylon Miller, Austin Pegg, Shane Williams, Hunter Yoders.
Alex Baldwin, Cody Bayles, Quinton Burge, Dustin Cook, Bill Estel, Chris Gouldsberry, Cody Franklin, John Horner, Derek Martin, Logan Routt, Mason Shook, Clayton Ward, Dalton Wood.
Levi Allman, J.J. Cain, Gage Francis, Wyatt Mackey, Preston Miller, Jared Neehouse, Devin Pettit.
Austin Cain, James Lander, Trey Routt, Michael Starcher, Austin Young.