For the last few seasons, the Cartersville High football program has had a pretty good idea of what to expect heading into its preseason scrimmage.
The Canes were going to have plenty of talent and experience, and the last two years they've been the favorite to win a Class 4A championship.
This year, though, with so many talented seniors graduated from the 2017 squad, even head coach Joey King isn't exactly sure what to expect.
That will make for an even more intriguing scrimmage tonight at Dalton, as Canes fans get their first glance at a team with a lot of new faces.
"That excites you. We had a lot of guys back last year, and even the year before we still had a good bit of numbers coming back," King said. "We've seen these guys come from little bitty things to some of these guys look like grown men now. So to see those guys finally get out there and get their shot at this deal, it's exciting."
Kick off is at 7:30 p.m. tonight at Dalton's Harmon Field. Special teams won't be live, the starters will likely be out by the third quarter and the game will not count against either team's record, but that does not mean the Canes aren't anxious to see how the scrimmage will go. With only five starters returning and several underclassmen expected to see significant playing time, King is hoping for a strong showing to instill confidence in the staff before the season opener against Allatoona on Aug. 17.
King admits his team still has a lot of work to do before that first game.
"We're not where we want to be by any means," King said. "Even going into a scrimmage, we're not where we want to be right now."
Adding to the unease, there's little game film to work off of to prepare for the Catamounts. King did say he knows Dalton will be physical and play multiple defensive fronts, which should prepare Cartersville well for the regular season.
"In a scrimmage, it's hard, because there's a lot of unknowns from your side and their side," King said. "So we're trying to have a plan in with the ability to have adjustments as the scrimmage proceeds. You can look at last year's film, but we're going to be a different team from last year and they are too. So you're trying to make a plan off of that. And then, if you get out there and they're in something completely different, it's about being able to adapt and adjust within the confines of what we're trying to do schematically. So there's a lot of uncertainty going into both sides of that deal."
As far as scrimmages go, tonight's game will be one of the more intriguing ones across the state. Cartersville and Dalton are both storied programs and both are in the top 10 in Georgia for most wins all-time. Dalton has had just one losing season since 1959, and the Catamounts were one of the preeminent programs in the state through the 1980s and '90s.
"That's what I told the kids the other day, and they don't realize," King said of the two schools' football traditions. "Dalton's a historic program. Cartersville's a historic program. You have two great communities. I expect it to be a great environment, especially in a scrimmage to start the season off."
Of course, tonight will be an opportunity to see junior quarterback Tee Webb, who has waited his turn behind Trevor Lawrence the past two seasons, but is primed for a big year now that he's finally the starter. Three-star recruits Jackson Lowe and Kaleb Chatmon will also look to show the first signs of possible breakout seasons.
Those players playing a major role this season are a given, but the positions to keep an eye on tonight are linebacker and offensive line, where Cartersville doesn't have a single returning starter from last year.
"I'm also anxious to see the kickers get out there," King said. "It's not live special teams, but they're going to kick. They're going to do it in front of a crowd, so we're going to see how those guys handle that too."
It's hard to build off a six-year period where the Canes won 77 games and two state championships. But, with all the uncertainty heading into this year, fans are anxiously anticipating a glimpse at how the Canes will transition from the golden era of Cartersville football, or if that era will continue.
Regardless, everyone can agree it's good to have football back, even if it's just a scrimmage.
"It's hard to believe that it's here. We worked all summer and all offseason," King said. "Our kids are excited about it, so we're glad that it's here."