After a 1-9 season last year and a 2-8 campaign in 2012, first-year Laurel football coach Delbert Hughes can summarize what he's looking for in one word: improvement.
Hughes, a varsity assistant for the past two seasons, takes over for Todd Sommerville.
Hughes has dealt with rebuilding jobs before, having coached high school football for four decades at 10 different schools in Pennsylvania, Prince George's County and Anne Arundel County, including stints as head coach at Largo, Northwestern, Archbishop Spalding and Quigley Catholic.
A turnaround will be a challenge for Huges, a 68-year-old Laurel High physical education teacher, because the Spartans have struggled for more than just the past two seasons.
Laurel hasn't won more than three games in a season in a decade.
"It's just a matter of putting the kids in the right situation where they can be successful," Hughes said. "You try to put the system to the kids and not the kids to the system. You don't want them to feel uneasy or not comfortable. The challenge is to turn this around, and the kids want to do that. I feel I can help them do that."
The losses have been humbling.
"Most of these guys have been here through the whole process, for the past three, four years," Hughes said. "They have seen what has been and they don't want to continue to see it that way. In the past, it hasn't been the same guys going through the whole win-loss thing. It was a lot of new guys coming in."
Laurel senior quarterback Michael Hubbard thinks the Spartans are headed in the right direction before the season kicks off Sept. 6 at home against Surrattsville at 12:30 p.m.
"This year, we have a lot more talent and skill," Hubbard said. "And everybody on this team wants to work. We are bringing a lot of leadership to the group. We can come together as one unit."
Hubbard takes over as the starting quarterback after working as the backup last year. He replaces Mason Duckett and will run a pro-style offense.
"I love his desire to get better on a consistent basis," Hughes said of Hubbard, who is a threat as a runner and passer. "He is never satisfied."
Senior running backs Marcus Jackson (5 feet 10, 185 pounds) and Keyon Pannell (5-9, 185), and senior fullback Jason Suggs (5-10, 215) figure to get plenty of carries.
"We are stressing the run this year a little more than in the past because of the style of linemen we have," Hughes said. "We are more suited to being able to do a lot more with the running game."
The offensive line features seniors Antonio Holloway (5-10, 250) and Kalu Uche (5-10, 235) and juniors Romar Taylor (5-9, 215), Ethan Lester (6-2, 230), Avery Blizzard (6-2, 200), Jonathan Yau (6-1, 255) and Allen Sesay (5-10, 215).
Laurel has four senior receivers -- Keshane Hinckley (5-8, 170), Gregg Walker (5-9, 175), Oluwaseyi Sodipo (5-10, 165) and Rashid Hammond (5-10, 175). "We have a lot of quality receivers," Hughes said.
Junior tight ends Tomi Dayo (5-11, 170) and Amad Dukes (6-1, 190) also will be focal points of the offense.
Laurel will stay with a 4-4 alignment on defense.
Holloway, a linebacker; Pannell, a cornerback; senior cornerback Michael Bynoe (5-10, 205), junior linebacker Elijah Korkoyah (5-10, 225) and Uche, a lineman, spearhead that unit.
Senior cornerbacks Michael Gibson (6-1, 175) and Gregg Walker (5-9, 175), senior end Grant Sowells (6-5, 220) and senior safety Rashid Hammond (5-10, 175) are also key players on defense.
Laurel athletic director Torrance Oxendine believes Hughes will get the most out of the Spartans.
"He brings that old-school mentality of, 'let's do things this way,' " Oxendine said. "His knowledge sets him apart from a lot of coaches."