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• High school football practice is underway and the clock is ticking toward kickoff of a new season. Follow daily as The Times and Democrat previews T&D Region teams. And review coverage as the series continues at TheTandD.com

DENMARK – What a difference a year makes!

Last football season, Paris Mason was in his first year as head football coach at Denmark-Olar High School. Despite having a good number of players and many good athletes on the team, the Vikings saw just one win, as they adjusted to Mason’s coaching style, defensive schemes and offensive playbook.

At the end of the 2014 season, one lone win against Bethune-Bowman (by a 46-20 score) was all D-O had to show to evidence any progress.

And with it being a second straight season with a 1-9 record, some could question that there was much progress at all.

“We had the one win and then a few games where we were really close for much of the game, but the calls didn’t go our way,” Mason said. “I think we are a bit better this year.

“Our team got a season under their belt with our setup last year, and I got a season under my belt working with them. And with very few seniors graduating last school year, we have a good many returning for this season. They understand my terminology and what we are doing now.”

Fast forward to this preseason and Mason is convinced his team has adjusted and has enough senior leadership to garner a better season in 2015. He isn’t ready to promise the program’s first winning season since 2003. But, he knows there is enough potential to have a very positive outlook.

“The seniors that we have this year should be adjusted and ready to go in the first game,” Mason said. “I think it was kind of a shock to them last year, the way I do things and the amount of teaching I needed to do to prepare them.

“Looking at the bodies last year, and the athletes we were working with, you never could have told me that we would only win one game. They are just more comfortable with the offense we are running this time around, and they look better because of that.”

Senior leaders on offense for D-O should include quarterback Ricco Parler, offensive linemen Charles Scott and Mike Jones, wide receiver Ozante Fields and tailback Travis Smalls. Mason is also looking for big things out of junior tailback LaDamian Dunbar.

Senior leaders on defense for D-O should include defensive back Molek Robertson, strong safety Patrick Wright and defensive end Ja’Kyree Youmans.

Mason knew there would be a challenge at D-O, having spent time as head coach at Williston-Elko and an assistant at Blackville-Hilda in recent seasons.

With this being the week of game one this season, a Week Zero home game on Friday against two-time defending Class A state champion Hunter-Kinard-Tyler, the Vikings have 25 players on the roster. That works for a Class A program. But, in the process of building, Mason has a few more young students who may join the team to start the season, with school having just started on Monday.

Part of the teaching Mason and his coaching staff have had to deal with has included explaining to the players that there are definite consequences to their actions. The Vikings have been working through penalties from the South Carolina High School League, stemming from an altercation between the D-O team and the H-K-T team last season.

Even with one of those penalties being a no-jamboree ban this preseason, Mason believes he has seen enough of his Vikings in scrimmages to have a good idea what they are capable of this season.

“It’s very exciting, and I think our kids are excited,” Mason said. “They realize we didn’t win some games that we should have won last year.”

The schedule has no easy section where the Vikings can expect a win. It starts off challenging and stays that way through 10 Friday nights, as the team gets a weekend off right in the middle of the schedule, in week five.

“We definitely don’t have a cupcake schedule at all,” Mason said, looking at challenging opening matchups against H-K-T and Calhoun County. “H-K-T will be a big game for us Friday. Then Calhoun County was young last year and should be better this year.

“But, I’ve been pushing our guys to not focus so much on who we are playing. They need to focus on us doing what we need to do.”

Having been shut out and kept off the scoreboard in four games last season, getting the offense cranked up a bit more should help the Vikings as they face weekly challenges this season.

If D-O can weather the first half of the schedule, the latter part offers better promise against Branchville (a 30-6 road loss last season), Bethune-Bowman (a Vikings' win last season, and a team with a new head coach), and Estill (a 30-22 road loss last year).

The final game of the season will be perhaps the toughest challenge of them all, a road game at Bamberg-Ehrhardt (a 44-0 home loss last season).

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Contact the writer: cclark@timesanddemocrat.com or 803-533-5553.

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Sports Editor

Orangeburg County native Chris Clark is a graduate of North Greenville University and Coker College and played baseball for both. He worked at The Morning News and The Dillon Herald prior to joining The T&D.

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