There is a new attitude and a sense of optimism heading into St. Helena College and Career Academy’s 2015 football season.

Coach Brandon Brown enters his third season with a team that is looking to build on the momentum created with last year’s squad.

St. Helena went 3-8 a year ago, and the team returns six offensive starters and six defensive starters. Last year, the Hawks played a tough schedule early on, which included playing up in classification, and the result was six straight losses.

Going into the seventh game, Brown, who also serves as the team’s defensive coordinator, decided to call the offensive plays as well. The result was three wins in the last four regular-season games and a playoff berth.

Although the season ended with a 28-20 loss in the bi-district round of the Class 2A playoffs to Pine, there is plenty of room for optimism heading into 2015.

“When I came here, I wanted to change the whole culture and create a winning attitude and a culture of a strong work ethic,” said Brown, who played defensive back in college at Alcorn State, where he earned his master’s degree. “The key is to get the kids to buy into that culture. It’s how you conduct yourselves on and off the football field. They’ve been putting in tremendous work, and they see how it carries over into the classroom. I pride myself on academics and putting schoolwork above everything else.”

That approach has been contagious, and Brown said he saw it in summer workouts, in the weight room and with more students participating in football than in past years. The Hawks start the season with 51 players.

“We have enough kids playing now that we can have some depth,” he said. “We are going to be an atypical 2A team because we have some good numbers.”

He said leadership might take time to develop because the Hawks are not a senior-laden team. “We’re counting on some of the younger guys, but if they believe in the process, it will work out.”

The Hawks will run out of a spread offense with play-calling handed off to new offensive coordinator Brian Glover, a former head coach at Sophie B. Wright in New Orleans. Another big addition to the coaching staff was James Atkins, who played a decade in the NFL and now serves as a volunteer coach with the team’s offensive and defensive lines.

The lines will be a strength for this year’s St. Helena squad because they are big and strong up front. Brown said Atkins’ guidance and coaching have really helped resonate with the squad.

The D-line will be anchored by 6-3, 225-pound defensive end Brandon Brumfield, a returning All-District starter. A couple of veteran linebackers, senior Douglas Mahaffey and junior Darryl Hampton will fill the middle. Brown said the defensive backfield has some youth mixed in with experience.

St. Helena will be young in the backfield. Starting at quarterback will be 6-4, 200-pound sophomore Ricky Travis. Sophomore running back Aaron Hurst will carry the ball, and his first cousin, Troy Hurst, will be used all over the field.

“With the spread offense, we’ll run about a 65-35 run-pass ratio,” Brown said. “With the big guys up front, we’ll rely on establishing the run and controlling the line of scrimmage.”

The Hawks’ schedule is brutal. They open with Live Oak, followed by Amite, Independence and Cohen. They’ll begin their seven-game District 9-2A slate on Sept. 25 against Pine.

“Our district is tough, week in and week out, and that’s a credit to all the coaches,” Brown said. “I’m looking forward to putting our guys out there and matching wits with some other quality coaches. I look at this all as a challenge for our team. We’ll be big up front and see if we can dominate up front like I think we can.”