SIGNAL MOUNTAIN, Tenn. (WRCB) -- A month into the 2011 season, everything was right on schedule for Signal Mountain football.
The reigning state champs were off to a fast start, eyeing a district title and positioning itself for a third straight playoff run. Then everything was wiped away.
"Things started so smoothly before all that stuff with Tim (McClendon), said junior defensive tackle James McClellan IV.
Senior running back Tim McClendon was ruled ineligible after transferring from Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe, and in turn, the Eagles were forced to vacate the six victories in which he played.
The setback erased Signal Mountain's playoff hopes, meaning they wouldn't get a chance to defend their title.
"Everybody started to get down and our spirits dropped a little bit, but at the end we were able to pick it back up."
Getting back to the grind right away helped some of the players move on. They channeled the season's frustrations into motivation for 2012.
"It was hard to get over at first, but you have to move on at some point," said senior linebacker Elijah Turnage. "Now it's just good motivation for us to come out and do well this year."
Head coach Bill Price would prefer it not be a thought at all, even if used as motivation, so he keeps his team's focus forward on the next task at hand.
"We harp on it all the time that last year is last year," Price said. "I told the kids you can't go back in the past, and you can't. This is a whole new year and Signal Mountain is going to be around for awhile."
Roster turnover has helped enforce that "clean slate" mindset. However, it may also present a few growing pains early in the season for a lineup that will likely start as many as seven sophomores.
The Eagles looked in midseason form at times in back-to-back scrimmages last week against Central and Ridgeland, but Price knows the true test has not yet come.
"I think our football team matured a lot," he said. "We definitely have some athletes on this team, but the question is how they're going to do on a real Friday night with the lights on when it counts. We're looking forward to seeing it."
This week's first Friday Night Football Game of the Week will be quite the season-opening test as Signal Mountain visits District 5-AA favorite East Hamilton. The Hurricanes are coming off their first-ever playoff appearance, which included a No. 1 seed once destined for Signal Mountain, but the Eagles are approaching it like any other game in any other season.
"We're ready and prepared to go out and start our season off with a bang," McClellan said. "Hopefully, as Coach Price said, this will just be one step on the way to winning state."
Indeed, despite youth and last season's disappointment, the goals have not changed for the four-year-old program. They've already been to the top of the mountain, and 2011's setback only fueled their desire to get back there.
"We really have come together as a team, and that's what makes us better. We're truly a family," Turnage said. "We want to come out and prove how we can play as a team. Everybody thinks we'll be rebuilding, but they're going to be surprised."