CROZET, Va. (CBS19 SPORTS) -- As last season progressed Western Albemarle only grew stronger, winning four of their last five games behind a gritty mindset.

"Just being the tougher team because we were always smaller, always slower, but we were tougher in my opinion," senior fullback/linebacker Dakota Howell said, "So just playing hard, playing together, playing good ball."

That mindset started on a Warriors defense, which only gave up 14 points a game, pitched two shutouts in the spring and returns eight starters this fall.

"I think we got to continue that mindset, I think anytime you get an identity and it's on the defensive side, that's a good thing," head coach Ed Redmond said, "Because you can always play defense, you can always play on Friday night and play defense. Sometimes things happen offensively like execution mistakes, things like that. But on defense I think it's a different bird."

"I think it's really just the chemistry between all our players, we all do our job and that's kind of it," senior center/defensive end Xander Smith said, "We've been working at it. Last season we really found our spark with our team."

The Warriors will be without star running back Austin Shifflett, who rushed for 3,587 career yards and 37 touchdowns in four years, but return a few key pieces on offense, including now sophomore quarterback Nathan Simon.

"Our o-line is all returning, so that's great news for us," senior tight end/outside linebacker Carson Tujague said, "We will be able to get a push in the run game hopefully."

"I think we're going to have to be a little more balanced, guys are going to have to step up," Redmond said, "We may look a little differently offensively, if anywhere we got to find our identity it's on that side of the ball."

Western's only two losses last season came by a combined 18 points and the Warriors believe with a veteran group back they are up for the fight in the new-look Jefferson District.

"That's our goal to be competitive this year and try to win the Jefferson," Tujague said, "I think that last one against Orange, especially since it wasn't too long ago will help us begin this season."

"We don't get looking too far ahead, we know there are some very challenging teams in our district, it's always very competitive," Redmond said, "We just take them one day at a time and we know that every night out in Central Virginia there's going to be a good football game."