If Lafayette's football players seem to have more bounce in their step this pre-season, it's because they finally shed some baggage off their backs.
Last fall, the Generals won a playoff game for the first time in seven years and won twice in the post-season for the first time since 1985.
"It was a great experience for them to go deep into the playoffs," Coach Carl Hayden said earlier this week. "I think it will give them confidence about what Lafayette football is capable of doing.
"We have an opportunity now to show people last year wasn't just the luck of the draw, and that we can come out on any Friday night and compete with anybody."
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Bubba Johnson, a senior running back/safety, likes his coach's message.
"He always tells us to aim high," Johnson said, "so we're going to try to go even farther than we did last year."
Lafayette has a solid foundation of veterans on which to build another playoff noisemaker.
Johnson "hopes to be an impact player on both sides of the ball," as he was last year when he rushed for 1,143 yards and 16 touchdowns, caught 22 passes for 190 yards, and was one of the team's top tacklers.
Hayden said he's stressing to Johnson, "as well as the rest of the team, that we can't live on what we did last year.
"That's old news, old business, and we've got something totally different in front of us this year."
Veteran defensive end Andy Hampton said he knows the key to repeating success.
"Toward the end of last year, we were more of a team than at anytime since I've been here," he said. "We know we've got to stick together and work together if we want to go far again."
Defensively, the Generals will rely heavily on Hampton, Johnson, linebacker Justin Carr (the team's leading tackler last year), end Chris Oldham and defensive backs Jalen Sleet and Jason Ferguson.
"Our (returning) starters have to be big contributors, but we hope younger guys step up," Hayden said.
Lafayette will be in the same situation on offense, counting on veterans to carry the load while new guys learn the ropes.
Hayden has confidence that Jeremy Smith will be a stabilizing influence at quarterback. Smith was under center early last season while Matt Britt was returning from an injury.
"I don't expect Jeremy to have any problems," Hayden said.
Being able to hand the ball off to Johnson, with blocking back Zane Ramey leading the way, will relieve the stress.
Lafayette has to develop a new receiving corps to replace Tanner Napier and Nick Jeter, who combined for 85 catches, 1,550 yards and 18 TDs last year.
Tray Chester, who had a few receptions as a sophomore, figures to be a prime target. Darius Hughes, also a junior, and sophomore Kylan Nelson should catch on, too.
The offensive line will be anchored by senior center Tobijah Hughley, whom Hayden called "our most polished veteran up front" — and junior Caleb Clemons.
This time last year, the Generals were beset by distractions. The completion of their new stadium was behind schedule. Hayden was still transitioning from assistant to head coach. And Britt, their starting senior QB, was a few weeks away from returning from an injury.
It's been more settled so far at Lafayette. "No distractions so there's no excuses," Johnson said. "We've just gotta play."
Hayden, however, knows there are holes to fill and questions to be answered.
"We're still in the process of searching for our strengths," he said. "But I think we'll find what we're looking for, just like we did last year."