Possibly more than any other area team, the DeSales High School football team is used to the annual cloud of expectations that again will hover over it this fall.

Possibly more than any other area team, the DeSales High School football team is used to the annual cloud of expectations that again will hover over it this fall.

As if having back-to-back undefeated regular seasons wasn't enough, the Stallions also must deal with the fact that last season ended with a season-worst offensive performance -- magnified by three turnovers -- in a 14-10 loss to Cincinnati Anderson in a Division II state semifinal.

Factoring in that DeSales has key returning players throughout most of the lineup and a schedule that appears to have taken a significant step up, there's only one way to describe this season: Pressure-packed.

"Our ultimate goal is to win the state championship," coach Ryan Wiggins said. "We have to win each and every play. Last year you could probably pick a handful of plays that made the difference (against Anderson), but Watterson can say the same thing with their (20-17 first-round playoff loss) to us."

New to the schedule is a perennially strong Division I team in Gahanna (Friday at home), six-time state-champion Youngstown Mooney (Sept. 4 away) and 2008 Division I state runner-up Cincinnati Elder (Oct. 16).

The Stallions -- like Watterson -- have moved to Division III, Region 10 for the next two seasons. All three of their state titles have come when they were in Division III, with the last in 1998. DeSales beat the Eagles and St. Charles to win the CCL-Silver Division title.

Leading the team's hopes are a pair of Big Ten recruits, a short but speedy two-way star with a famous last name and one of the area's top juniors.

Senior Travis Jackson (6-foot-5, 265 pounds) has verbally committed to play for Michigan State and -- along with senior tackle Alex Vance (6-4, 235) -- will lead the offensive line.

Senior Chi Chi Ariguzo (6-3, 215), who has grown about three inches and added 20 pounds since last year, has moved from safety to outside linebacker and has verbally committed to Northwestern.

Senior Adam Griffin (5-9, 190) is the son of two-time Heisman Trophy winner Archie Griffin and will start in the backfield and at defensive back.

Last year, he finished with 776 yards rushing and five touchdowns and led the Stallions in all-purpose yards (1,710) while making special mention all-district. He also had 50 tackles and five interceptions on defense. He has scholarship offers from Air Force and Navy, among others.

Also back is junior Chris Rock (6-5, 245), who had three catches for 42 yards and two touchdowns at tight end. He was first-team all-district on the defensive line as he finished with 55.5 tackles and nine sacks.

"We're feeling pretty good as a team," Griffin said. "Our quarterbacks are learning the system pretty well. We're going to go as far as our line takes us. Defensively I feel like our front seven has a chance to be very special. We should be pretty decent on defense."

Two of the biggest offensive holes were created with the graduation of running back Josh Kusan (1,572 yards rushing and 24 touchdowns) and quarterback Thomas Gentile.

Kusan was the district's Defensive Player of the Year after totaling 101 solo tackles and six sacks and also was the ThisWeek Super 25 captain.

Gentile rushed for 980 yards and four scores and was 62-for-135 passing for 971 yards with 16 touchdowns and five interceptions. He also averaged 37.5 yards per punt.

Likely taking over at quarterback in the option attack is senior Mitch Herbert (6-0, 180), with junior Nick Gentile (6-1, 200) also getting reps.

Herbert played in five games last year, throwing one incomplete pass.

Seniors Malcolm Burrell (5-10, 210) and Jake Edsinger (5-9, 180) and sophomore Warren Ball (6-1, 185) also are at running back. Senior Gary Lewis (5-10, 165) and junior Sam Borghese (6-3, 175) should be the top receivers.

Others expected to see time on the offensive line include seniors Aaron Boyd (6-1, 260), Harold Nicholson (6-2, 275), Dale Olmsed (6-1, 230) and Joe Riley (6-0, 240) and juniors Santino Cua (5-11, 205) and Tony Moore (5-9, 200).

Jackson, Rock and Vance all will be on the defensive line in the Stallions' 4-3 set along with Moore, Riley and sophomore Alex Washington (6-2, 250). Burrell, and senior Evan Killilea (5-11, 200, 62.5 tackles) join Ariguzo (64.5 tackles) at linebacker.

Griffin will be at cornerback along with senior Mitch Yinger (5-10, 180), with Ball, junior Tevin Cox (5-9, 180), Gentile, Herbert and junior Kevin Marth (5-9, 170) all at safety.

Senior Kyle Nugent is back at kicker after making nine of 15 field goals and 49 of 52 extra points.

"The last two years were undefeated seasons, pretty special seasons," Wiggins said. "When you look at a schedule like ours, you have to take it one week at a time because each and every game is a challenge."