Howard's deflating 2009 football season led to some ups and downs going into the 2010 season.

After going 2-8 in a year of high expectations, the Hustlin' Tigers were up before the sun, stretching a little between yawns and before a morning run, and many were sacked out by sunset, worn down by a grueling series of practices.

There is change at Howard after losses to rivals Brainerd and Tyner in the same year for the first time since 1994. Those who relaxed and basked in glory after the Tigers' 17-5 run the previous two seasons suffered in 2009, and they have been put on notice.

Some of those changes might be subtle, like the team running from the gym past Finley Stadium and on to Newton Chevrolet rather than heading around Lookout Mountain through St. Elmo to the Tennessee-Georgia line. Others will be noticed quickly this season, like the change to Georgia Tech's option offense from a passing game in which receivers hoped to catch up with far-flung throws.

Coach Alvin Tarver is calling the new offense the Tiger-bone.

"Word is getting out quickly. I hope we can run it as well as Tech does," Tarver said.

In the middle of the revival is Eric McCullough, a senior who gained notoriety as a freshman linebacker who loved to drop the hammer and as a running back who equally enjoyed slipping tackles or bowling over would-be stoppers.

Tarver agreed that McCullough looked like a big-time athlete when he arrived four years ago.

"That's a fair assessment. I got an opportunity to watch him in middle school, and he is a rare breed," the coach said. "We expect good things, big things from Eric. He's extremely hungry."

McCullough might wish to shoulder a tiger's share of the blame for last year's disappointing shortcoming, but he could only pace the sideline for six games because of a nagging back injury.

The player who rang up 98 solo tackles as a freshman and another 80-plus as a sophomore is ready to make up for lost time.

"Looking at that last year, it was like watching a fight and not being able to do anything about it. It hurt not being able to play," McCullough said.

And this year, he believes he isn't alone.

"Last year hurt everybody," he said. "A lot of guys got their feelings hurt. Last year and people throwing it up in our faces is all we have talked about."

Walking the walk has replaced talking the talk, McCullough indicated.

"We're ready to forget last year because we have a whole new season in front of us," he said. "The guys who played on that 2-8 team are hungry. We're hitting hard and listening to what the coaches tell us."