Everyone draws their own motivation from preseason polls.
For Madison, it’s pretty simple after being picked to finish last in the Western Highlands Conference by the league’s coaches.
“Everyone looks at us and feels like we’ve lost everything,” Patriots coach Mark Gosnell said.
“I know we’re picked in the lower echelon of the conference. But we’re very optimistic. There’s no superstars on this team necessarily, but these kids come to work every day and work hard. And they get along well.”
Numbers-wise, Madison hasn’t lost that many starters (seven) from last year’s 6-6 team.
But senior Daniel Nash (132 tackles in 2013) has been hampered by a calf injury in the preseason, and there is still some uncertainty at quarterback.
For now, Gosnell said the team will give both Austin Payne and Colby Edwards a chance to run the offense. Payne passed for 429 yards and a touchdown as a sophomore.
Madison was once one of the most downtrodden programs in Western North Carolina, but has won 19 games in the last two years.
Senior Dylan Hilemon (112 tackles, seven for a loss) is a two-year starter. Other key defenders back in the fold are Mason Edwards (52 tackles), Travis Hollifield (40) and Jacob Patterson (33).
The Patriots are home for Friday’s season opener against West Henderson (Madison won the 2013 game by a 33-21 score in Mills River).
“It’s going to be a challenge, (West Henderson) is very good and they’re going to be tough to stop,” Gosnell said.
“Hopefully our kids can step up to the challenge and keep it close until the end.”