Offensive linemen often toil in anonymity, but that might not be the case with the Licking Heights High School football team.

Offensive linemen often toil in anonymity, but that might not be the case with the Licking Heights High School football team.

"I keep telling the kids we'll be as good as our offensive line," coach Darren Waters said. "That's the strength of this team."

The Hornets return three starters up front after finishing 7-3 overall a year ago and placing third at 5-2 in the MSL-Cardinal Division behind co-champions West Jefferson and Liberty Union, which both went 6-1 and qualified for the playoffs.

Licking Heights advanced in 2007 but ranked 10th a year ago in Division IV, Region 15 and has moved to Division III this season.

Senior Alex Kielmeyer (6-foot-1, 235 pounds) is the center on the offensive line. Classmates Austin Williams (6-1, 230) and Nick Lewis (5-9, 215) are back at left guard and left tackle, respectively. All have played varsity since they were freshmen.

Kielmeyer made second-team all-district last year for the Hornets, whose playoff hopes dimmed with a 27-8 loss to Liberty Union in the seventh week and vanished with a 28-0 setback against the Roughriders in the regular-season finale. In between, they blanked Grandview 28-0 and Millersport 59-0, but that wasn't enough.

The Hornets won the Battle for Broad Street with an early 41-14 victory over Watkins Memorial, and they also helped keep Harvest Prep out of the postseason with a physical 38-13 league win in the fifth week in a penalty-filled game also marred by several scuffles.

"We have to be able to handle adversity," said Waters, who has a 25-17 record entering his fifth season at Licking Heights. "In the past, well, maybe at times we haven't always done that as well as we could have. We're trying to grow as a football family and we talk all the time about having trust in each other."

Senior Trayvon Ware (6-1, 301) will be the right guard while classmate Shawn Duprae (6-4, 205) and junior Tevyn Young (6-2, 200) share time at right tackle. The tight ends will be junior Chris Woods and senior Edwin Kamara.

"It's the biggest line we've had since I've been here," said Waters, whose team finished 11-2 in 2007 and won the school's first playoff game.

Senior quarterback Cody Bailey saw action a year ago even though graduate Shawn Smith was the starter. Senior tailback Dan Pennington is another four-year starter who made first-team all-district last year as a linebacker. Bailey was second-team all-district as a defensive back.

First-year fullback Andre Meyers (5-11, 264) has impressed in camp, Waters said, and others to look for include sophomore Blake Springhetti and junior Mikie Barnett.

Bailey toughened up by wrestling last winter for the first time, and he plays catcher for the baseball team.

"He's used to leadership-type positions," Waters said. "And we've found out here in camp that he's a pretty good runner, too. Shawn (Smith) could flat-out run away from people and Cody won't do that, but he's pretty elusive. In fact, we've been calling him Kenny Stabler (an Oakland Raiders' quarterback of the 1970s) because he's like a snake out there."

Second-team all-district wide receiver Dereke Acosta graduated as did Phil Grizer, a first-team all-district defensive lineman who also played out wide on offense. So the Hornets are rebuilding somewhat at that position. Playing wideouts will be junior returnee Ty Stallings, as well as senior Nick Rubbo and junior Jordan Bodell.

Defensively, the Hornets have a little more work to do but will lean on senior end Colt Denig, who placed third in the Division II boys 300-meter hurdles last spring and brings quickness from the edge. Kamara is another end and Young is at nose guard. Also look for Barnett, Ware, Lewis and Williams up front.

Pennington and Springhetti are the top linebackers.

The secondary includes Bailey at free safety and senior Pete Jeffy has experience at cornerback. Waters said he would like to develop enough depth to keep Bailey on offense mostly.

The Hornets were the MSL-Cardinal runner-up in 2007, but West Jefferson's only loss since joining the league in 2006 was 26-21 at home against Harvest Prep last fall. Fisher Catholic is coming off a pair of disappointing seasons, which included a 2-8 record last year, but the Irish have a new coach in Mike Hensley, who left Granville after the Blue Aces made consecutive playoff appearances.

"That's exciting for them. He did a great job at Granville and he'll bring a new style, I'd imagine," Waters said. "You might have to throw them into the mix now along with us, West Jefferson as always, and Liberty Union."