The Liberty Union High School football team isn't exactly starting over after reaching a Division V state semifinal last season.

The Liberty Union High School football team isn't exactly starting over after reaching a Division V state semifinal last season.

However, that doesn't mean the Lions don't have some big holes to fill if they plan to defend their MSL-Cardinal Division championship.

The Lions -- who finished 12-2 overall and 6-1 in the MSL-Cardinal to share the league title with West Jefferson -- return five starters on both sides of the football.

The key this season will be the Lions' play on the offensive and defensive lines, where they will be smaller in size after losing several key players to graduation.

"What may determine our fate this season will be how well the three new linemen step up on our offensive and defensive fronts," said coach Dan Johnson, whose team lost to eventual state champion Youngstown Ursuline 35-6 in a state semifinal. "I think they'll get the job done, it's just that they don't have experience. Right now, it's a question mark. But it might not be a concern down the road."

The three new faces on the offensive line in the Lions' unbalanced I-formation are senior inside tackle Alex Saunders (6-3, 225), junior outside tackle Andrew Pepin (6-3, 215) and junior strong guard Shane Snyder (5-10, 190).

"They have to replace some good blockers," Johnson said. "My son, Sam Johnson was all-state at outside tackle and is playing at Ohio University. Clayton Bondurant was at inside tackle and he's playing at Wilmington. We had Shane Little at strong guard and he's playing at Otterbein."

Returning linemen include senior center Damien McAfee (6-0, 250) and senior guard Pat Blevins (5-11, 190).

Seniors Dustin Love (TB) and Seth Kovach (WR) are other starters returning. Part-time starters back include seniors Travis Crisan (WR) and Cody Magley (FB).

"Dustin Love ran for almost 1,000 yards splitting time with Cody Magley last season," Johnson said.

"They had 1,700 yards combined. Now Magley will be at fullback. With Dustin Love and Cam Love at tailback, if we can give them a little room, they'll make something great happen almost every time they touch the ball. They're exciting."

Senior Andy McCord will be at quarterback with classmates Zach Logue at wingback and Marcus Makuch at tight end.

"McCord is a mobile, accurate passer who can spread the ball around some," Johnson said. "But he's never started a varsity game, so we'll see how he handles the pressure. He has the ability and guys look up to him as a leader, but it's always a work in progress with a new quarterback, especially in the first three or four games.

"Kovach and Crisan give us some athleticism at receiver and Logue looks to be ready for a big year. He had a great offseason and he can give us the blocking, running and receiving we need at wingback. He'll be very involved in the passing game."

In their 4-4 defense, the Lions return two full-time starters to the positions they played a year ago, McAfee at nose tackle and Dustin Love at safety. Magley moves from outside linebacker to inside linebacker. Makuch, who was a part-time starter a year ago, is back at end. Crisan also returns at cornerback, but will share time with Kovach and Logue.

"There are questions right now as to how we'll hold up against a physical, run-it-down-your-throat offense," Johnsonsaid.

"Our strength is our speed and quickness and we can cover the spread offenses we'll face. We've evolved from a 4-4 to a 4-3 when we play spread offenses. Our linebackers and secondary can handle that well. But we're not sure how we'll react to a physical offense yet."

Newcomers on the defensive line are Pepin at tackle and senior Mark Cramer at end. Junior Nate South joins Magley at inside linebacker, and Blevins and Cam Love will be the outside linebackers.

Sam Tennant is expected back at kicker and punter.

"We need to improve on basic fundamentals every day," Johnson said. "We need to forget about last year and focus on this year. We've already had some off-field distractions and we really need to shift our focus."