The Circleville High School football team went through the kind of season last year that coaches want to forget and players want to avenge.

The Circleville High School football team went through the kind of season last year that coaches want to forget and players want to avenge.

In the worst season of coach Keith Downing's tenure, the Tigers failed to get an MSL-Buckeye Division victory and finished 1-9 overall.

For the returning players, this season brings an opportunity to get Circleville back to one of the top teams in the MSL-Buckeye.

"It's all about our mentality," said junior quarterback K.C. Hawkins, whose team plays host Friday to Miami Trace in its opener. "We need to get 1-9 out of out heads. This is a new season and a new year, and we just have to bounce back."

With eight starters returning on each side of the ball, the Tigers bring back the core of their lineup,.

Hawkins (6-foot, 165 pounds), who started the last five games at quarterback, will take the majority of snaps under center. He can direct the option in Circleville's run-oriented offense, but the coaches also like his ability to throw when called upon. He passed for 366 yards last season.

"As the quarterback, you have to be the leader," Hawkins said. "As a sophomore when you're up there calling the plays for juniors and seniors, it's tougher. But definitely now, I'm a junior, an upperclassman, and I'm taking more of a leadership role."

Hawkins' main receiving targets will be juniors Reily Kiser (6-0, 160) and Billy Smith (6-0, 180), who combined for 186 yards on 11 catches. They will take a larger role with the graduation of Travis Dray, who had 540 receiving yards last year.

The Tigers hope to run about 60 percent of the time, and they will look to a backfield-by-committee as six players are battling for playing time - seniors Chris Hatfield (5-9, 175) and Jeremiah Weekly (5-11, 155), juniors Derrick Ford (6-1, 200), Clay Davis (5-9, 150) and Nate Otero (5-7, 170) and sophomore Anthony Dietrich (5-8, 160).

"We're really happy with the backs we have," Downing said. "We feel like we have six kids back there that we're going to rotate in and out and all are going to get some reps."

Davis has the most experience, as he rushed for 289 yards on 84 carries last season.

The offensive line returns three starters in seniors David Branham (6-3, 265) and Eddie Strawser (6-1, 225) and junior Dylan Ford (6-3, 260). Strawser likely will play tight end in addition to anchoring the linebackers on the defense.

The Tigers have a solid group of returning linemen, but lack depth at those spots.

"Skill guys, we're fine on both sides of the ball. But we're a little worried about our offensive and defensive line," Downing said.

Defensively, the Tigers return three of their top players from a unit that allowed an average of 26.6 points a game.

Strawser was the leading tackler (68) a year ago, and he will be joined at linebacker by Otero (35 tackles). Senior Eric Burris (6-0, 175) returns in the secondary, and he had 47 tackles last season.

"We feel real fortunate that our kids coming back on defense are players," Downing said.

Circleville opens with two home games, and the coaches know that starting strong is critical, and can set the tone for the rest of the year.

"Our first couple of games are very, very important for confidence," Downing said. "If we can just come in and play, and be competitive and get a win or two there, that would be a big advantage for us."