Second-year North Union High School football coach Jesse Miller is tightening the laces this season.

Second-year North Union High School football coach Jesse Miller is tightening the laces this season.

Discipline, focus and balance are words he used to describe the goals for the Wildcats.

"We will be focusing this year on being a more-balanced team in terms of run tasks," said Miller. "We've also been developing our passing game, but being well-balanced is our No. 1 priority."

That could be a challenge for the Wildcats after losing running back Cam Collum, who rushed for 1,350 yards and scored 26 touchdowns a year ago when North Union finished 7-3 overall and 6-3 in the Red Division of the Mid-Ohio Athletic Conference.

The Wildcats finished 12th in the Division V, Region 20 computer ratings.

Others lost to graduation included Ben Nauman (LB/FB), Jake Smith (punter), Garrett Deel (OL) and Grant Smith (OL).

Collum, who led the league in rushing and scoring (144 points), joined Nauman and Jake Smith as first-team all-league picks.

Deel was on the second team and Grant Smith was honorable mention.

Despite those losses, North Union has 12 starters back. They possess a solid defense which should allow the wing-T offense to develop as it tries to replace much of last season's production.

Returning to lead the 4-3 base defense are juniors Warren Shields and Travis Laird.

Shields, who was an all-state selection, was second in the league with 10 sacks from his end position.

The first-team all-conference pick is moving to middle linebacker this season.

Laird, a safety who had four interceptions to tie Marion Pleasant's Jonathan Myers for second in the league behind Cody Harris (five) of Pleasant, was second-team all-conference.

Miller, who was an assistant at Marysville before taking over at North Union, said the team takes pride in its defense and will rely on its speed and quickness this fall.

"Our team needs to learn how to play disciplined football," he said. "When people come to watch us play, we want them to come away saying, 'That's one of the most disciplined, intense, and hard-working teams we've watched play.'

We know that the only way that happens on Friday nights is to develop that mentality through the way we prepare in practice."

If last season is any indication, that scenario could play out this fall.

Miller replaced Mike LoParo, whose last team went 6-4 overall in 2007 before he left to coach Delaware Hayes.

"We are really excited, especially about our guys coming back on defense," Miller said. "We feel like we have one of the best defensive teams in the league and these kids play with a lot of emotion and intensity and take great pride in what they are doing on that side of the ball."