For Verlon Reed and the rest of his Marion-Franklin High School football teammates, it didn't take long to realize what could have been following last season's loss to top-seeded DeSales in the second-round of the Division II playoffs.

For Verlon Reed and the rest of his Marion-Franklin High School football teammates, it didn't take long to realize what could have been following last season's loss to top-seeded DeSales in the second-round of the Division II playoffs.

The Red Devils found out they could run with the big dogs, too.

"When we first heard we were going to play DeSales we were like, 'Oh, my God,'" said Reed, a senior quarterback. "But after we watched them on film, we found out you can find anybody's strengths and weaknesses. We still think we could've won that game."

DeSales took advantage of mistakes and scored twice in 15 seconds during a 28-point second quarter.

The loss has set the tone for the season as Marion-Franklin looks not only to earn its sixth consecutive City League South-Division championship, but also venture deeper into the postseason.

"We have a very close group of kids, but if we want to move closer to our goal, which is a state championship, we have to come together as a family," said coach Brian Haffele, who begins his fifth season. "I think our kids are working harder and they're hungrier because of what happened in the playoffs last season."

Marion-Franklin finished 10-2 overall and 6-1 in the City-South to tie Eastmoor for first.

A 51-17 setback to Independence in week nine marked the first league loss for the Red Devils under Haffele.

That night, the 76ers' Devin Clodfeldter rushed for 186 yards on 23 carries and scored twice.

It's given Haffele reason to make stopping the run as a top priority this season. The defense features just three returning starters in senior Dominique Marsh (DB) and juniors Rashawn Thorpe (DE) and Devante Strickland (DB).

Gone are all-state defensive back Tyrell Massey and Desmond Barnett, a three-year starter at safety, as well as defensive tackle Ky'Ayre Hubert (6-foot-2, 330 pounds).

But those new faces expected to fill starting roles this season earned plenty of playing time a year ago.

"We have a chance to be a really good defense," Haffele said.

"We've got speed. I think all 11 can run 4.7 or better (in the 40-yard dash). We certainly have the talent and it might be the most talented group I've had here, but that doesn't always translate into championships."

While Marion-Franklin's defense has speed, its offense has size with senior linemen Aaron Shelton (6-5, 320), Nate Strickland (6-3, 300), Nick Strickland (6-3, 300), Matt Williams (6-1, 310). All are returning starters.

Center Terry Evans (5-9, 260) replaces all-City center Jay Dingis.

Other returning starters include senior wide receiver Jeremy McCoy (6-3, 195) and Reed, who was all-district with more than 1,200 yards passing and more than 800 yards rushing.

"Verlon has worked hard in the offseason and he's put on about 10-12 pounds of muscle," said Haffele, who has 25 returning letterwinners. "I think he's going to be able to take abuse a little more this year."

Massey carried the ball the majority of the time last season. Haffele this year is looking to three juniors -- Amir Robinson, Chad Jones and Paul Harris -- to take charge of the running game.

"We're young, but we've got people who can lead," Reed said. "It's all about discipline first. We hope for a good season. We always want to go out on top and keep the tradition going."