Jason Winstead doesn’t want to be at a place where the expectation is to go 3-8 or 4-7 every fall.

The second-year Goose Creek Gators football coach likes about where the 2019 team set the bar. The Gators won the Region 7-AAAAA title and advanced to the third round of the Class 5A playoffs. The nine victories equaled the Gators’ win total from the previous three seasons combined.

“We’ve got a bull’s eye on us now but I’d rather be the program with a target on its back,” Winstead said. “We want a season like this to be the goal but there are no guarantees. We know people aren’t just going to say they won the region championship and just lie down for us.”

Seniors powered the turnaround with their leadership and talent. The Gators lose 17 players, including 11 starters so there is some work to be done in the offseason. They’ll get cranked back up in the new year after some time off.

“We’re going to miss those guys,” Winstead said. “The seniors that stuck it out were definitely rewarded. It’s like I told them (after the loss to Carolina Forest), we’re going to celebrate this season. When you look back, you’ll remember all the good things. They changed the program and the attitude of the school. People who weren’t supporting them are now supporting them.”

The Gators have to replace some marquee weapons on offense, starting at quarterback. Senior Emmanuel Mukuamu passed for 2,502 yards and 35 touchdowns. He also rushed for 908 yards and 11 scores in earning the region player of the year nod.

Mukuamu’s top target is moving on, too. Receiver Damon Mouzon made 69 grabs for 956 yards and 18 touchdowns, and made all-region. DJ Matthews, who also saw time at quarterback in his career, caught 19 passes for 306 yards and six scores. He also punted and held on kicks.

The top receiver returning will be junior Malachi Taylor, an all-region pick who hauled in 50 passes for 690 yards and 11 touchdowns. Running backs Demetri Simmons and Malachi Williams are back, too.

Starting offensive linemen Deangelo Bright and Eddie Loftis move on but the Gators bring back three starters up front, including all-region selection Jayden Johnson.

On defense, two of the five starters moving on were all-region selections. Linebacker Nyhiem Simmons, a team captain, led the Gators in tackles the last two years and Jekiah Wigfall was a cornerstone in the secondary.

More seniors were defensive lineman Gavin White-Burgess, linebacker Andrew Marabella and defensive backs Devante Pryor and Jalen Daniel.

On special teams, kicker David Cannady can return.