Reese (721 yards, five TDs) led the ground game even though he missed two contests, Ken Haynes added 407 yards and five scores and then-freshman A.D. Cunningham (271 yards, three TDs) also showed promise.
Three players with 10 or more receptions also return in Reese (22 catches, 351 yards, five TDs), Kevin Forrest (15 catches, 200 yards, three TDs) and Cunningham (10 catches, 57 yards, one TD).
"Everybody's working hard,'' Alexander said. "My linemen are unbelievable. They've turned around completely from last year. My backs and wide receivers, everybody's flying around, and we're all determined. It's just that we want to get back on a playoff run again.''
By most accounts, the Black Eagles' success may rest on how well they fill several vacant positions on their offensive and defensive lines.
"We may have had one of the best years of offseason work in the weight room that we've ever had,'' Messinger said. "Now we don't have a Blake Brooks, Austin Vickers or Wayne Wurster any more, but from tackle to tackle, physically, in the weight room, we may have the strongest team we've ever had. It's not weightlifting or powerlifting strong, it's football strong.
"They got that toughness back. We came out for the first time and hit [Tuesday] and I must have talked to them for 10 minutes about what toughness means for a South Charleston football player. The consensus feeling last year across the board was, 'What happened to the toughness?' We weren't tough, and that's mental. That's a mindset. I don't care if you're 6-foot-3 and 280 or 5-3 and 140. Tough is tough, and we lost that last year. I know a lot of that's because of the inexperience, but with these kids I think you'll see that South Charleston grit back this year.''
Prior to last year's playoff miss, SC had won 40 of its previous 43 games - and one of those losses came by forfeit. Certainly a hard act to follow, but this year's squad thinks it can draw off that storied past.
"I think we can use those expectations to try and stay up to them,'' Orcutt said, "instead of stay below them. Because we want to be looked at highly, and want people to have high expectations because we have high expectations for ourselves.''
Messinger boiled it down even more.
"They have that chip on their shoulder again,'' he said. "They've got that hunger.''
Reach Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or rickr...@wvgazette.com.