Senior defensive back Kailik Williams said that expectations are "the same" for football at The Citadel this season.
They've been set pretty high the past two seasons.
The Bulldogs spent most of last season in the Football Championship Subdivision top 10, running undefeated through the Southern Conference regular season before falling to Wofford in the second round of the playoffs.
Since the end of the season, cornerback Dee Delaney chose to play a graduate-transfer season at Miami, where he is expected to start. Also, offensive lineman Isaiah Pinson, who won the Jacobs Blocking Award as the SoCon's best lineman, decided to forgo his final season to prepare for a shot at a professional career, meaning the Bulldogs are replacing four offensive linemen from the nation's top rushing offense (348.2 yards per game).
The team returns three starters on offense and six on defense, along with losing both specialists, but coach Brent Thompson said the focus is on this season and the players he has in the program, not those who are gone.
"There are frustrating days when you're trying to plan and plan so far in advance, but you've got to get beyond that," Thompson said at SoCon media day in Spartanburg. "Those guys are gone; it's college football, we don't get to keep them forever. They're going to graduate, and there's nothing we can do about it in some of those cases.
"These things happen. If I let it bother me, it's going to bother my program, bother my kids and set us back, so we've got to move forward and the fan base has got to move forward, because I know this football program has."
2016 record: 10-2, 8-0 in SoCon; fell 17-3 to Wofford in second round of playoffs
Season opener: Sept. 2 vs. Newberry
Date against UTC: Oct. 21 in Chattanooga, 2 p.m.
Projected order of finish (Coaches/Media): 2/2
Coming Saturday: East Tennessee State
The cupboard is far from bare. Williams, the 2016 SoCon defensive player of the year by the media, had 103 tackles (10 for loss). He'll quarterback the defense, while the quarterback on offense, senior Dominique Allen, rushed for 659 yards and seven touchdowns while throwing for 646 yards and three scores in leading the Bulldogs' triple-option attack in 2016.
The two seem to embrace the role of leaders on their respective sides of the ball.
"We just have to bring the little guys up with us," Williams said. "We weren't really too good when we first came in, but we've started a new tradition. I've just got to lead the way for the younger guys, and hopefully they'll follow behind me."
Allen said new leaders will have to step up "now more than ever."
"We have leadership all over the place that needs to be replaced," the 6-foot-1, 227-pounder said. "Guys will have to step up; we have room for playmakers to step up and become special players. They'll have the opportunity to take us to the next level.
"We (the seniors) have to start leading by example. We have to show up to work every day, put on our hard hat, go to work every day with the mentality to winning each day, winning each practice, winning each rep. The young guys will see that, and they'll have to imitate that for us to be successful."
Contact Gene Henley at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @genehenleytfp.