PACE — Last season was not what many in Pace were expecting with the return of Coach Kent Smith to the sidelines of the Patriots.

A mark of 5-5 last year was tied for the best the Patriots have posted since 2012 when the team went 7-4 under the direction of Mickey Lindsey.

For Smith and company the attitude is very simple — play hard and play together.

“We will focus on playing hard and playing together,” Smith said heading into his second season. “We need to control things that we control.”

In Pace, the word once again is the big men on the line, which was one of the cornerstones for the red, white, and blue, from their outstanding runs during their heydays when Smith handled the defense for Lindsey.

“We lost a lot of good players last year due to graduation,” Smith said. “But we have three offensive linemen back that have gotten better — Spencer Lovett, Josh Robinson, and Brance Schepper.

“So far in the preseason we have been very pleased with our defensive linemen — Colton Hines, Chris Farkas, and Hunter Beville.”

Despite returning five starters on each side of the ball there is one focus that will help the Patriots be successful in 2017 with some depth issues.

“We need to stay healthy this season,” Smith said.

Last season Smith ended the losing streak to long-time and district rival Milton with a 35-34 win on the Panthers' home turf, which was Pace’s only district win of 2016.

But this does not mean the road is going to be easy for PHS when it comes to District 2-6A.

“I look for Navarre and Gulf Breeze to be good again,” Smith said. “Pace and Milton are playing catch-up, but I know Coach Lees will have Milton getting better.”

While the district games are ones that will be highly contested, Pace is not one to shy away from stiff competition.

“All of our non-district games are going to be good ones,” said Smith.

The non-district schedule is highlighted by teams like Fort Walton Beach, Pine Forest, Tate and Pensacola Catholic, to name a few.

One piece of the puzzle missing this season will be Anthony Johnson, who is now playing at the University of West Florida, but that doesn’t mean that Smith and the Patriots will not have a player or two to load up in the backfield of the two-back gun.

Defensively, Pace will stick with their very familiar 50 font.

After starting the 2016 season 3-1, the Patriots managed to win only two of their final six games.

Smith knows this is not the formula you need to follow to make the playoffs.

But there Smith has continued the attitude of long-time and very successful former Patriot head coach Mickey Lindsey.

“We want to get better every week,” Smith said. “And get in the playoffs.”

The hopes of making the playoffs this season are not only up to the season Pace has, but under the new playoff system being introduced this year their hopes will be up to the season their opponents have as well.

Smith did not have an opinion of the new playoff system introduced by the Florida High School Athletic Association for this season, but it could prove to be quite interesting depending how the four districts in Region 1 of Class 6A breaks down.

Only the four district champions will earn an automatic berth, while the 13 other teams in the region, which stretches to St. Augustine, are hoping they are one of the four teams to earn wild-card berths to fill out the eight team Region bracket.

The first Friday of the season, all teams start on level footing, but half of the teams could be one win down or one win up.

Pace is looking to make that first game a positive one.