A talented and experienced group will take the field for Darlington next season, with veterans returning in many key starting roles.

However, it’s a long way to August, and for head coach Tommy Atha that senior-laden group has been vital in setting the tone this spring.

“The seniors provide consistency, for one thing,” Atha said. “There’s an expectation level. I think having guys back who were in the battle last year, who have had some success on the field, I think that the younger guys feed off of that.”

The Tigers return a host of key players from a team that went to the second round of the Class A Private state playoffs a year ago and finished 9-3.

Despite the number of returning playmakers, Atha says the team’s desire to get better has been evident the whole offseason.

“It’s always refreshing when kids want to be out here, and you can tell,” Atha said. “Some springs it’s a grind, some springs the kids are eager and want to get out here, and I’ve felt that eagerness with this group.”

After missing most of his junior season with an injury, quarterback Griffin Brewster will return to head up what has the potential to be a very dangerous offense.

The one-two punch at running back of senior Kolin Rogers and junior Demetrius Rogers will once again benefit from Darlington’s stout offensive line, especially with highly-touted offensive tackle Tate Ratledge leading the way.

Brewster has offers from Oklahoma State and Louisville, among others, and Ratledge, also a rising senior, is deciding between Tennessee and Georgia. Both Rogers running backs earned second-team All-Area nods last year, while rising junior wideout Casey Gunn, a favorite target of Frank Manning last year, is back as well.

On the defensive side of the ball, tackle Cade Brock has picked up some steam in the offseason, while safety Kobe Nadu, a second-team All-Area selection last year, is set to be a big part of the Darlington secondary.

“It’s always good to see the kids who have benefited from the weight room,” Atha said. “We’ve got some kids that have gotten bigger and stronger, and that’s always encouraging.”

The Tigers will get a break from going against each other and Atha will get a good look at his team when they travel to face Dalton — a 6A power — on the road May 16 for their spring game.

Regardless of what happens then, Atha says the Tigers have progressed well since starting spring practices last week.

“I think their motivation is what has been encouraging this spring,” Atha said. “There’s a motivation from this group to really take another step. We’ve had some really good years, and we’re very proud of those, and the expectation isn’t any different but this group has expectations, and I think to this point, they’re doing the things necessary to fulfill those.”