With each winning season, the target on the collective backs of the Carson High Senators gets bigger.
Coach Blair Roman knows it, and so does his squad.
The Senators, who have won or shared the last three Sierra League/Northern 4A football titles, start the push for a fourth straight title Friday night (7 p.m.) when they host Hug in the annual Hall of Fame game.
Carson, which shared the regular-season title with Reed, reached the state semifinals last year, losing 49-0 to the Raiders to finish 10-2 overall.
"I do think coming into the season most teams will look at how they've done against us," Roman said after Wednesday's practice. "The things we try to ingrain into every player is having a good attitude and work ethic. If you have that things will fall into place.
"We've talked about it (the Reed game). I don't want to dwell on the past. If you dwell on the pat you're not going to move forward. If we're lucky enough to be able to play in that type of game again we'll know what we have to do to win."
It certainly will be a different Carson High team this year, especially on offense.
Gone is three-year starter Dylan Sawyers, who scored more than 65 touchdowns in his outstanding career. He was easily the most exciting player in Northern Nevada the past few years and could inflict damage, running, passing, receiving and returning kicks. Also gone is outstanding two-way player Chance Quilling, prolific kicker Austin Pacheco and wide receiver-defensive back Brock Pradere.
Simply put, Carson will be a little more pedestrian in the post-Dylan Sawyers era.
"Dylan was a special player," Roman said. "It's been a long time since people have seen a player like that. We've been lucky enough to be a pretty explosive team the last two or three years.
"The basic philosophy of our offense is ball control; to possess the ball. We have a lot of options on this team. You don't see many 10, 12 or 14-play drives in high school football. If we can do that a couple of times a game I'd be happy with that. As the non-league season moves on, we'll be finding ways to exploit."
The ability to possess the ball like that hinges on the strength of the offensive line, and Carson's is expected to be one of the best with Levi Carter, Aaron Cowee, Jordan Woodward, Joe Zinda and tight end Luke Maher returning. Ramon Marquez, who saw spot duty last year, and will start at left tackle this year.
Carter has been moved to center and will be flanked by Cowee and Woodward. Zinda and Marquez will start at tackle.
Roman said the team has been meshing well thus far, and that he would be more concerned if he was trying to break in a new line compared to having new faces running the ball.
"It was a difficult decision moving Levi to center because we don't like our center to have to play a lot of defense," Roman said. "Levi is such a mentally tough kid. He's a cerebral kid and very bright.
"Aaron played at about 310 last year. He's lost 35 pounds, and we moved him to guard because of that. A a sophomore it's always a day-to-day thing with how hard practices are compared to the lower level. He has the potential to play at the next level. Aaron works very hard and has a good attitude."
Carter will be snapping it to junior Garrett Schafer, who will start at least the first three games. He saw limited action last year, playing a half against Galena and mopping up in blowout wins. Roman won't know for three weeks whether Matt Nolan, last year's starting QB, will be with the team.
"He's done a good job of protecting the football in preseason," Roman said. "I hope it translates to games. He does a good job of running the offense. We've been working on his accuracy. Certainly we lose a little in the sense that Matt had the ability to make something out of nothing when a play broke down. Garrett is big and strong and that will help him a little bit. He can throw rolling out. He has good vision.
"Even with Matt last year, the No. 1 priority was running the offense. The second thing was passing accuracy. We're looking at a 60 percent passing completion."
Joey Thurman, a starting wingback, has confidence that Schafer will step in and do a good job.
"I'm sure he'll be nervous, but we have confidence in him," Thurman said. "He's one of our leaders."
Sophomore Colby Brown is the starter at fullback, while Thurman, who saw plenty of time at running back early last season (300 yards rushing), starts at one wing at the same spot that Sawyer occupied. The other wingback spot will be manned by either Maher, Nevin Elliott, Austin Shaffer, Andrew Gutierrez and Sean Robles.
"I feel the pressure," Thurman said. The Carson running back said the playing time he got as a sophomore will help him this year as he takes on an expanded role.
Wide receiver will be handled by Logan Krupp, Gehrig Tucker, Zach Kind and Casey Wolfe. Roman said Krupp has gotten bigger and faster over the past year.
On defense, new coordinator Bob Bateman has been given the task of rebuilding a unit that will be very young in terms of varsity experience.
"Coach Bateman is aggressive," Roman said. "Depending on who we play and the match-ups will depend on how much we stunt and blitz. He does a tremendous job game planning and studying tendencies."
Matt DeMar will start at nose guard, while the tackle spot will be rotated between Javier Torres, Jesse Knight, Cowee, Woodward and Jose Victor. Krupp. Carter, Andy Cooper and Lee Rusler will compete for playing time at defensive end.
Returnee Sage Smith leads the linebacking corp at outside linebacker. Brady Rivera and Shaffer man the middle and Stephan Sobkiewicz will be the strong side backer. Gutierrez, Adam Perez and Tucker start in the secondary with Dexter Cummings expected to see action, too.
Wolfe will handle the punting, field goals and kick-offs, stepping into Pacheco's shoes.
"Austin had to play both ways last year, but Casey is mainly going to be a one-way player which should help," Roman said. "Casey worked real hard in the weight room over the summer and it showed in his leg strength. His punting started to come around last year. His range is between 45 and 50 yards. Accuracy is the key."