The Goose Creek Gators return to the gridiron in 2019 for their second season under Coach Jason Winstead.

They’re coming off a 4-6 campaign which could have yielded a few more victory parties with a break or two in some games. The Gators missed out on the playoffs for the second year in a row.

“I do see an improvement,” Winstead said. “Practices are sharper. The kids are working hard. There is definitely improvement. Now, of course, that has to translate to Friday night. Things do seem to be better than they were at this point last year.”

The Gators open up the new season with a home clash on Aug. 23 against Ashley Ridge, which handed Winstead a 30-13 loss in his first game as the Gators coach.

“I think Coach (Kenny) Walker does a great job with them,” Winstead said of the Foxes. “They’re really good at what they do. To start with they’ve got a Division I quarterback. Now, Bobby Marion is the offensive coordinator. He’s a heck of an offensive coach. I think that’s going to be one of the better opening games around here.”

The Gators follow with a road clash at Summerville on Sept. 6 after a bye week.

“Hopefully we can have some more success this year and show an exciting brand of football,” Winstead said. “Hopefully it will be more fun to come watch a game this year than it has been in the past.”

Led by quarterback Emmanuel Mukuamu, the Gators bring back eight starters on offense. Included are leading receiver Damon Mouzon, running back Maurice Mazyck and the versatile DJ Matthews, who has played all three skill positions.

Mouzon has worked hard in the offseason to increase his speed and Winstead called his hands “almost great.”

“I think he’s going to have a great year,” Winstead said.

Additional skill players in the mix are receivers Malachi Taylor, Malachi Williams and running back Demetri Simmons.

“We’re a lot closer to it but I’m not sure it’s capable of doing what I want it to do quite yet,” Winstead said. “They’re getting better but we’re just taking it one day at a time.”

Up front, center Eddie Loftis, right tackle Deangelo Bright, left tackle Rashaun Smith and left guard Jayden Johnson are returning starters. Andrew Dezelle is projected to start at right guard while Lawton Hawkins and Andrew Nelson provided depth.

“Everybody wants to talk about our offensive skill players but I’m mostly excited about our offensive line,” Winstead said. “Most of them are back. They’re a little bit nasty and those guys work hard. They’re bigger and stronger. We’re not huge but we’ve got good size. They get after you. Some times we’ve got to rein those guys in.”

Defensively, the Gators return seven starters, including a strong back seven.

Noseguard Symeon Kennedy is a returner up front while inside linebackers Nyheim Simmons and Quinn Tolbert anchor the middle after leading the team in tackles in 2018.

More players in the fold up front are Gavin White-Burgess, Ethan Latham, Tahji Johnson and Rodney Hill. Additional linebackers are Demarion Richardson, Andrew Allen and Andrew Marabella.

The back end of the defense is the most experienced group on the team.

Cornerbacks Jalen Daniel and Melvin Ravenel are returners along with safeties Devante Pryor and Jekiah Wigfall. Alex Dial also figures into the secondary mix.

“We had moments last year where we were pretty good and then we had some where we were really bad,” Winstead said. “We’re looking for more consistency. Week to week we want to be a tough out. We want to stop the big play and make people earn it. We expect the defense to lead the team, create turnovers and set up our offense in good position.”

On special teams, David Cannady is back to handle kicking duties.