These are almost certainly not the circumstances under which the Independence Community College football team wanted to be entering the 2010 season.
In 2009, the Pirates may have ended the season with a 2-7 record, but the program was looking at the bigger picture. It was the first year of Lamar James' tenure as head coach, the foundation of a major rebuilding project for ICCC football.
Unfortunately, tragedy struck just a few short weeks after the season came to a close. While visiting family in his hometown of Mound Bayou, Miss. on Nov. 21, the 31-year-old head coach died unexpectedly of a severe heart attack.
The James family, including his wife, Cindy, and children Kamrynn and Boston, was left without a husband and father. And the ICC football program was left to pick up the pieces as well, replacing a bright, energetic leader and beginning the rebuilding process a new.
Enter Steve Carson.
In his second year with the Pirates, his first as head coach, Carson and his staff began working immediately to keep the team moving in the right direction. First on the list of duties?
"We've been in constant evaluation mode since really last winter," he said. "Since we started recruiting. We've been constantly looking at high school kids and any transfer players also at the same time."
In addition to a solid incoming group of freshmen – though Carson was hesitant to single out individuals for praise with the season not yet begun – the Pirates will rely on a handful of talented sophomores to help them improve upon the 2-7 record of a year ago.
Chief among them are linebacker Mike Juene and quarterback Brodrick Waters, both honorable mention all-conference selections in 2009.
Juene, a 6-foot-3, 225 pound prospect from Jacksonville, Fla., is popping up on the radars of Division One coaches after a freshman campaign in which he tied for third in the conference in sacks with nine.
"He's gotten some interest from Division One schools already," Carson said. "We'll just see how it transpires out and obviously this season will be critical in how well he ends up being recruited. He's a kid that can run well for us."
Offensively, the Pirates attack this season should cater more to Waters' outstanding running ability. In 2009, the freshman quarterback rushed 96 times for 618 yards, an average of 6.4 yards per carry, and three touchdowns.
"We're going to run a little bit more of the option this year, so that should help us out," Carson said. "Obviously, we're counting on him to do some things for us, and we're excited about what he can do."