Editor's note: This story is part of The Daily Citizen-News' 2019 High School Football Preview. Pick up a copy of Thursday's paper, Aug. 22, or stop by our office for a physical copy of the special issue.
Last season didn't feel so great for Southeast Whitfield High School football coach Sean Gray.
It was the first year the Raiders have had a losing record since 2013.
"Last year we slipped up. But, if you look back to last summer it was awful," Gray said. "The kids didn't come in the summer or even when practice started. It kind of ended up making sense to us all.
"Ever since the beginning of this spring, we needed them to commit. We told the kids when practice starts that if you're not here, you're not playing."
As the summer progressed, Gray took it upon himself to do something he hadn't ever done.
All Southeast players who were present for 17-of-20 workouts during the summer were rewarded with an overnight trip for fun only. The Raiders had 47 players meet that goal, while 36 of them took the trip to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, to spend a day at Dollywood and another at Splash County amusement parks.
"We have been to camps and things like that overnight, but this was purely for fun," he said. "There was a lot bonding, and it was a really good trip.
"Since we've been selling them on commitment and having them promise to be here, we figured we would reward them."
Despite numbers and depth being on the lower side, what Gray now has is a core group of players that are dedicated to being the best they can be. Players he can trust and know will behave.
Players that are committed.
"This is it. This is what we've got," he said. "Now we are trying to build on them. Once they are here, they have to do what's right and be disciplined.
"One thing about the smaller numbers is that the kids are getting more coaching and better coaching. We only have a handful of kids that are waiting to roll in and they are usually watching and ready to go. It's led to us having less problems."
At the center of things is quarterback Adam Sowder, a senior who knows how things should be progressing. Seniors AJ Miller and Henry Vassel will see touches from the backfield, likely to be Southeast's main strength.
"Adam is a great kid," Gray said. "He's a great leader being another year older -- arm stronger, faster. Behind him, our backfield is very fast. We are fast, and I've said that for a long time."
And eight years into the job, Gray said he is taking commitment to a new level, as well.
"We are still evolving and changing. You have to adapt to things or you'll suffer," he said. "We are going to compete and expect to win. We've got potential."
Coach: Sean Gray (eighth year)
2018 record: 3-7, 1-5 in Region 6-4A
All-time school record: 143-298-1, first season in 1975
Region championships: one in 2000
State championships: none
2017 record: 7-3
2016 record: 5-5
2015 record: 5-5
2014 record: 6-5, lost in first round of playoffs for Class 4A
Impact players: Adam Sowder (senior, quarterback) -- 80-for-165 passing for 927 yards and 10 touchdowns with 77 carries for 392 yards and two touchdowns last season; Henry Vassel (senior, running back/linebacker) -- 70 tackles last season; AJ Miller (senior, running back); Colter Long (senior, receiver) -- 23 receptions for 212 yards and one touchdown last season; Bryson Waters (senior, lineman); Ethan Hill (junior, receiver/defensive back)
Keep an eye on: Bryson Lofton (junior, tight end); James Winters (senior, lineman); Alex Munoz (sophomore, linebacker); Chris Ambriz (junior, lineman); Matthew Wojcik (senior, lineman); Chandler Dyer (junior, defensive back); Seth Hilley (junior, defensive back); Brady Ensley (freshman, linebacker)