MADISON COUNTY, Ala. (WHNT) — For episode seven of On the Road with Olivia and Claudia, we feature two teams from Madison County: Buckhorn and Hazel Green.

The Bucks finished 2022 with a 3-8 overall record, and head coach Matt Patterson says that left a bad taste in their mouths but it also helped light a fire under this year’s group.

“I just think you see it in the results of the growth in the weight room,” Patterson said. “The guys who have put on the good weight and the guys who have gotten faster and stronger. If you don’t put in work you don’t get any results.”

Aside from progress in the weight room, Patterson is also excited about having a pretty experienced group returning. He says they were a young team last year who’s grown up, and they’re also a group who loves the game of football.

“I think the comradery among the players it’s more of a family attitude and I think all the guys on our team love football and they enjoy coming to work every day,” Patterson said. “How they show up, how they interact and cut up and we don’t have a whole lot of problems. You better love football because it’s a grind. It’s six days a week until mid-November hopefully so if you don’t love it football’s not the place for you.”

About 20 minutes away from Buckhorn, we find the other half of the Cotton Classic rivalry: the Hazel Green Trojans. The Trojans are coming off a 4-7 record in 2022 and the team’s first playoff appearance since 2018.

“I definitely think there’s a little bit of hunger there. Those guys have been adamant as we’ve talked in the offseason about taking the next step,” head coach Charlie Wilburn said. “For us, making the playoffs last year was great but we want to get to the point where that’s more of an expectation and that’s more of the baseline. They’ve done some things this offseason to kind of put ourselves in the position to continue down that path.”

Second-year head coach Wilburn says even though they didn’t get as many wins as they might have wanted in 2022, they’re not focused too much on the past; every team has a life of its own and he’s excited about the potential of this year’s group – and the brotherhood they have both on and off the gridiron.

“I think the most important thing for us is the mentality of our guys but also the relationship they have with each other. We’re trying to build a culture where they like being around each other, they hold each other accountable and push each other, and that’s something that we’ve really tried to stress, and you can see it really kind of take hold,” Wilburn said.

“To me, that’s just as important as what you run. If you have a group of guys who like each other and will go fight for each other, that overcomes a lot. I think the team that’s most connected and can go to bat for one another and trusts one another you give yourself a lot better opportunities for success,” he added.

Both teams are on the road to start the season on Friday, August 25. Buckhorn’s taking on Madison County and Hazel Green will travel to Sparkman.