JAY — For Coach Melvin Kersey and company, last year was a rough one when Jay's Royals posted a 1-9 mark.

Now Kersey and his charges are looking forward to 2017 and more experience despite their low numbers.

“Our biggest loss from last season has to be Matthew Saylor,” said Kersey, who is preparing for his second season in Jay. “Matthew played one of our inside linebackers and offensively he played fullback and tight end at times. He was also our punter and kicker.”

Royal fans do have something to be excited about as they have eight starters returning on defense and nine players returning on the offensive side of the pigskin.

While these numbers sound impressive, the Royals have only 25 players on their roster. This is problematic, as these numbers do not allow much room for injuries or giving key players a breather.

“There are a couple of teams (Baker and Northview) we play that heavily outnumber us; most teams we play are relatively close to our size and in our same classification,” Kersey said. “Because we usually have to play several players on offense and defense, I have put a lot of emphasis on conditioning our players and getting them in game shape.”

Some of the key players to watch for this season wearing the blue and white colors are quarterback Connor Moye and his two big targets in fellow seniors Eric Godfrey and Reid Kelly. Then there are James Eddings and Justin Sheffield, who will be in the backfield of the Royals’ Pro-I scheme.

Defensively, Jay will operate out of a 4-4 with senior defensive end Christian Kent, junior linebacker Stone Brown, and senior strong safety Brandon Moye.

The teams are looking for their first post-season appearance since 2007, when the Royals finished the season 8-3. Despite winning seasons in 2013 and 2014, Jay has to mature quickly.

“The biggest challenge our team will face this year is the lack of depth in certain positions,” Kersey said. “We’ve got to do a good job of developing some of our young players and stay healthy this season.”

The team will start the season in Flomaton, Ala., against one of their traditional rivals, plus there are games against teams like Baker and Northview.

Then there is the return of Freeport, a former district rival, to the 2017 schedule.

“I think our opener against Flomaton could be a good game to keep an eye on,” Kersey said. “They are a big rival school of ours in Alabama, just 10 miles away.

“We’ve had some good games with one another throughout our history. It’s also good to get Freeport back on our schedule. It’s been several years since we’ve played one another.”

But making the post-season is not going to be so easy with the FHSAA's new rules in 2017.

According to the new system, which is modeled after a point system used in Nebraska, all 10 games will be worth something. Teams in Class 1A, like Jay, will be assigned to one of four regions that will be used for playoff seeding purposes. Teams will earn points based on the number of wins each opponent has at the end of their respective season.

Four teams from each region will be selected based on points to fill a 16-team bracket.

“I don’t know if I can fully explain the new systems,” Kersey said. “But with the new point system, every game on our schedule could have an impact on whether we make it to the playoffs or not.”

With this new system and the plans Jay has in place under the direction of Kersey, the Royals will take the season one game at a time.