Mifflin High School football coach Brian Miller believes his team is capable more than what it has shown the last two seasons.

Mifflin High School football coach Brian Miller believes his team is capable more than what it has shown the last two seasons.

Getting his players to also believe was one of his biggest focuses in the offseason and throughout preseason workouts.

Although the Punchers were playoff qualifiers in 2002 under former coach Brian Staats and last had a winning season (6-4) in 2005, they went just 2-8 in 2007 and slipped to 1-9 a year ago.

Mifflin went 1-6 in the City League-North Division to finish seventh behind champion Brookhaven (7-0).

A stress on improved senior leadership -- to go along with a more athletic group of players -- has Mifflin thinking it could turn things around.

"We've gotten more disciplined, and we have more unity," said senior Jaylen Littlefield, who is a co-captain along with Aaron Austin and Tayvin Zeigler. "It all started during the offseason with weightlifting. I feel that with the team we've got this year, we'll just treat (all of our opponents) the same. When they put their shoulder pads on, they're human just like us."

Littlefield (5-foot-10, 175 pounds) was one of the team's leading rushers a year ago but was battling incumbent junior Tony Price (5-10, 205) for the starting quarterback job in the preseason. Junior Jacques Dorsey (6-3, 175) also is in the mix.

Senior Ricky Truesdale (5-5, 145), a transfer from Groveport who according to Miller can run the 40 in 4.4 seconds, should take on a key role in the backfield. Sophomore Louis Baker (6-0, 185) also will be at running back, and senior Marvin McComb (5-10, 160) and sophomore Troy Robinson (5-8, 160) should lead the wide receiving corps.

The Punchers plan to focus on the running game out of spread formations in hopes of utilizing athletes such as Littlefield, Truesdale, Baker, McComb and Robinson. Seniors Julius McIntyre (5-9, 275), Zeigler (6-0, 308) and Carl Peay (6-3, 265) and junior Shawn Cook (6-0, 245), who did not play last season, should lead the offensive line. Senior Carlos Hardiman (6-1, 215) will be at tight end.

"We had some adversity, but we overcame it," Austin said of the team's first scrimmage Aug. 11 against Johnstown. "Defensively we're looking solid and offensively we've got a good running game."

Cook, Zeigler and McIntyre should all start on the defensive line, with Baker and Hardiman leading the linebacking corps. McComb and Robinson will be the top defensive backs.

The Punchers lost two-way lineman Ray Watters to graduation and junior Anthony Pruitt -- a 6-3, 295-pounder -- transferred to Groveport.

"Offensively we're probably going to be some kind of a spread team that runs the ball," Miller said. "We want our athletes getting the ball in spaces. We didn't have a consistent group of committed leaders last year. They just wouldn't buy in. This year we have a committed group of seniors. We also have at least five play-makers on offense. That is something we didn't have. Truesdale is breaking angles so fast."

Mifflin, which has gone 22-38 in six years under Miller, hopes a schedule switch can help get it off to a good start.

A year ago, the Punchers were blown out by Gahanna 52-0 in their opener. This season, Mifflin opens Friday against host Chillicothe Southeastern -- a Division V school coming off a 3-7 year.

Mifflin then plays Sept. 4 at Olentangy Orange, which went 3-7 last fall. The Punchers close the non-league schedule Sept. 11 at Pickerington North, which they lost to 30-12 a year ago.

After competing in Division III, Region 12 the last two years, Mifflin is back in Division II.

"I'm very optimistic," Miller said. "I know we're going to be more competitive. We have an experienced, veteran group of playmakers. It's just a matter of time."