Corey Olson replaced Rick Splitt as coach at Palatine, and the worry was that the three-time defending MSL champs could be headed in the wrong direction.
Well, there may be a new captain at the helm, but the sails are still full, the oars are in the water and this edition of the Pirates' ship is clipping right along, full speed ahead.
"It is a great atmosphere and lots of good things going on," Olson said. "I am excited. We have a lot of good football players back and they have the right attitude."
Palatine made its second consecutive deep playoff run last year, losing in the state semifinals to eventual champion Maine South. With 8½ starters back from last year, including a group that could be considered D-1 prospects, the Pirates are in quest for more booty.
"Everybody is aiming for us," Olson said. "But I don't think anyone is going to pick us last, either."
The defensive line will go from 1 to 99, with Bryant Smith wearing number 1 and Josh Danielson wearing number 99 and playing the ends for the Pirates.
Jesus Salinas (6-1, 235) comes back to play in the middle of the line while Javier Barrera, Eddie Orozco and offensive linemen Basa Balanganayi and Carson Walker will get some snaps.
The linebacking corps looked solid with Cortez Hogans returning to the middle. But a stress fracture has slowed him, and he could miss the opener against Stevenson. Charlie Canty, Luke Stoffel and Johnny Montijo will begin the season for the Pirates, with Justin Munoz also in the mix.
On paper, the Pirates' secondary would appear inexperienced with only the ball-hawking Jake Moertl (9 interceptions) returning. But Johnny O'Shea and Jack Orlando did see some time in the secondary last year and will be there full-time this season. Cedric Cashaw will be the final piece in the backfield.
The high-powered offense that was led by two-time Daily Herald all-area captain Zach Oles last fall could be just as dangerous this season .
DJ Angelaccio, who stepped in when Oles was sidelined by injury in the playoffs, gained valuable experience in the three games he played.
Angelaccio will have three of his main weapons back. There's O'Shea, who seems to catch anything that comes his way, and Jake Hopper, who responded when teams doubled O'Shea. Orlando, who made some huge catches, will also be back, along with Jason Rivera. Jake Gronwick also impressed in the preseason.
The biggest question mark coming into the season for the Pirates was at tailback. Olson says Palatine has five players who could each make opponents cringe.
"This group of running backs can run the ball and do a lot of things for you," Olson said. "We are excited about that position group and hopefully we can get some consistency from them."
Marshawn Rayford, Darryl Garner, Josh Okee, Mason Gratziana and Isiah Lewis will give the Pirates depth and different looks at the running back spot.
They will get to run behind probably one of the best right-side offensive lines in Walker (6-2, 250) and Balanganayi (6-4, 295). Orozco (5-9, 220), Andreas Rivas (5-9, 200) and Manny Juarez (6-0, 230) fill out the balance of the line.
Olson says with his team's competitive schedule, the Pirates are going to do everything they can to get off to a good start.
"We were mostly 2-platoon last year," Olson said. "But we think that with Stevenson and Maine South coming up early, we need to have our best players on the field and have people ready to play both ways."