NEW CHAPEL HILL -- It's been four years since the Chapel Hill Bulldogs celebrated a state championship on the AT&T Stadium turf in Arlington, and perhaps for the first time since, they appear to be inching closer to the top of the mountain.

Chapel Hill reached the area round of the playoffs a season ago, and with a bevy of talented playmakers on both sides of the ball returning, the Bulldogs are hopeful another long playoff run could be in the offing.

"So far, I'm seeing some great leadership by our senior group," said Chapel Hill's Thomas Sitton, who's entering his seventh season as head coach. "A lot of those guys have been playing for us since they were sophomores. It seems to me that we've remembered a lot from the spring. I'm very excited with where our effort is right now, I'm very excited about our energy and our enthusiasm. I just hope we're going to get better and better every day."

Chapel Hill quarterback Konnor Hitchcock prepares to pass during the Bulldogs' practice Wednesday morning. (Mark Martin,

Wednesday's late morning practice was marked by crisp scrimmaging from the first-team offensive unit, which brings back the bulk of its impact performers from 2014.

"I'm excited from what I've seen from the offense," said Bulldogs senior quarterback Konnor Hitchcock. "The linemen are blocking real well, the receivers are running good routes, and the running backs are fast as always. I'm excited to see what happens for us during the season."

The only real question staring Chapel Hill's offense down right now is a lack of experience on the offensive line, a group anchored by three-year starter Jeremy West, the group's only returning starter.

"They've adjusted well," said West, one of East Texas' top O-line prospects. "In the spring everything was fast-paced and uptempo, so we have plenty of practice."

Sitton has liked what he's seen thus far from his offensive line.

"They're becoming a very tight-knit bunch, and that's where its at: up front," he said. "When you play football in East Texas, everybody's got skill kids, everybody's got kids that can run. The important thing is if your offensive line and defensive line come through. They're working real hard together right now, and I feel like they can make themselves into a special group."

With so much experience back at the skill positions, Chapel Hill's big men up front have time to catch up.

Chapel Hill offensive lineman Jeremy West (right) goes through positional drills during Wednesday morning's practice. (Mark Martin,

"I mean, it makes the job a little easier," West said of the Bulldogs' seasoned backs and receivers. "But the goal is always to knock people on their butts on every single play. And our young guys understand that."

Hitchcock passed for more than 2,000 yards as a junior, and saved his best for the playoffs. In the Bulldogs' bi-district win over Huffman Hargrave, he passed for 336 yards and four touchdowns.

"We've been playing with each other for a while now, so I think we have a good feel for how well we all play together," Hitchcock said. "We have really good teamwork and really good leadership this year, and that's going to help us out a lot."

Senior running back Ja'Braylon Franklin also returns after rushing more than 1,000 yards last season. And the receiving corps is mostly intact as well with seniors Deundre Phillips, Reggie King, and Zack Walters.

"We're fortunate to have a lot of playmakers (at receiver)," Sitton said. "All of them do a great job of catching the football, they're great route-runners. The thing that's even more impressive about them is when they get it in their hands, what they can do with it. We're extremely excited about that group."

Chapel Hill begins the season Aug. 28 at home against Lindale.

Chapel Hill head coach Thomas Sitton looks on during the Bulldogs' Wednesday morning practice at Bulldog Stadium. (Mark Martin,