After a relatively cool summer, it was stifling hot two Sundays ago when Paul Dunbar's football team gathered for a pre-season photo shoot on the toasty artificial turf at Jon Akers Stadium.
When Bulldogs Coach Jason Howell emerged from his office, he was wearing a black polo shirt and black slacks, an outfit sure to absorb the oppressive sun rays.
Howell had ordered white shirts for the coaching staff, but he wasn't going to complain. He's used to taking heat — Dunbar went 1-10 in his first season as coach last fall.
Even as the young Bulldogs struggled mightily down the stretch — they lost their last six games by an average score of 50-9 — Howell and his players kept a positive outlook.
So it's no surprise that Howell and his team have an upbeat attitude as Dunbar gets ready for a new season.
"The players are determined to earn respect from people in the city and on a statewide basis," Howell said.
"We're still young, but we have a lot more experience and a lot more depth, and our seniors are providing good leadership."
Thad Johnson, a senior linebacker, said he expects "big things" this year.
"We've been working hard, especially in the weight room and on the practice field. We've got great team unity."
Dunbar's motto for 2009 is "No distractions, just destruction."
"That means, if we stay focused, we can conquer anything in front of us," Johnson said.
The Bulldogs appear to have kept their focus, even after a few players were kicked off the team because of an incident during camp a few weeks ago. (Howell would not comment on that incident.)
Dunbar's defense returns a lot of experience, including Johnson, Jordan Perkins and Thayer Burgess at linebacker, Luke Coleman and David Tooley up front, and Kendall Davis, Brad Harp and Sam Doss in the secondary.
Howell also expects big contributions from Michael Hunter and Parker DeAgano at linebacker, and Jordan Gatewood and Robert Givens in the secondary.
"We're trying to find who fits best, trying to use our versatility," said Howell, whose defense surrendered an average of 43 points and 390 yards a game last year.
The Bulldogs offense must show more punch after averaging 11 points and 178 yards in 2008.
Trent Martin will run the show again. As a sophomore quarterback he completed 40 percent of his passes for 1,248 yards and seven touchdowns.
"Trent's arm is a little stronger, and his decision-making is a whole lot better," Howell said.
Martin admitted it was a rough go for the Bulldogs last year, "but we were so young and we had a new coach; we knew it'd be a rebuilding year. We all knew we were pointing toward this year."
Harp and John Rose will be newcomers at tailback.
"They're both hard-nosed kids. They're not afraid to take it between the tackles, but they also have speed to go outside," Howell said.
Burgess, Hunter and Tucker Lyles will be "hybrid" fullbacks, capable of catching short passes. Davis is a sure-handed receiver. He had 25 catches for 300 yards last season.
Gatewood will be another target at wideout, and Spencer McGuire will be a possession receiver at tight end. McGuire had 15 catches for 200 yards last year.
To shore up its blocking, Dunbar has converted Johnson and Coleman to offensive linemen. They'll join Tooley and Zach Ford up front. Perkins and DeAgano also will see action on the offensive line.
"We're trying to find guys who'll give us a little speed, quickness and toughness inside," Howell said.
Martin said he's confident the Bulldogs will find a few more victories this year.
"We need to prove to people they aren't just going to roll over Dunbar anymore," he said. "I think we'll surprise a few people and win a lot of games in the city."