"We came out with a lot of intensity the first few games, and then we lost that one to Barnard and that kind of dropped morale a little bit," DeKalb junior Dalton Henderson said.
The Tigers started the year with three wins, but dropped six of their final seven games, including a district semifinal defeat to eventual state champion North Andrew. Wardlow believes the team became complacent during the early win streak, and couldn't recover.
"You expect to win and you don't give it 100-percent," Wardlow said. "And when you have 13 kids on the team you've got to give it 100-percent every single week or you will get beat."
DeKalb returns three skill players to the backfield in 2014 led by senior running back Scott Grable, but thin numbers on the offensive line make it an uphill battle to build move the ball down the field.
"We are experienced in the backfield, but we are very, very young on the line. Anybody can run through a hole, so we've got to win the line of scrimmage to make a hole."
In order for DeKalb to return to power in conference and district play, they must go through North Andrew.
The Tigers haven't beaten the Cardinals since a 42-34 decision in 2010, but they're hoping this can be the year the champs are dethroned.
"It's really exciting thinking about that, but it's going to take a lot of work for us to get to that level," senior Riley Marriott said.
"They're sitting at the top of the PVC," Wardlow said, "So somebody has to knock them off and we have to prepare for it."
That preparation at DeKalb is underway as they try to eclipse a .500 record for the first time in three years.