The West Jefferson High School football team is coming off a "down" year.

The West Jefferson High School football team is coming off a "down" year.

Sort of.

Of course, when winning 10 games and reaching a Division V regional final can be considered disappointing, the term "down year" may need to be kept in perspective.

But that's the reality facing the Roughriders, who lost their first league game since joining the MSL-Cardinal Division in 2006 when they fell to Harvest Prep 26-21 in week nine.

Just don't expect the losing to become a habit.

"Our kids understand that there are high expectations on the program, but those expectations aren't any higher on the outside than they are in the locker room," said coach Shawn Buescher, whose team still shared the league title with Liberty Union as both finished 6-1.

"We approach each season with those high expectations. We expect those kids to carry that torch and represent our program in a manner we've become accustomed to."

Those broad expectations rest on the even broader shoulders of quarterback D.J. Mendenhall, who already is the school's all-time passing leader. He has thrown for more than 2,000 yards each of the last two seasons. The question is who will catch those passes?

Gone are receivers Eric Fischer, Eric Love, Joey Adkins and Shane Cahill, along with dual-threat running back Cody Woodard. Replacing them has been a priority.

"(Mendenhall) will be the first to tell you that he's got a great offensive line and he's had tremendous playmakers around him," Buescher said. "We graduated a lot of receivers last year. So we're looking for some kids outside to step up. We've had a very productive preseason, and we're hoping they can make plays for him and he can put up those numbers again."

Senior Ben McDowell and juniors D.J. Gray and Clay Smith are expected to be the top targets for Mendenhall.

"For guys who haven't necessarily been out there on a Friday night with the balls flying, to this point, they've been very productive."

Senior running back Corey Coeher also returns after missing the latter half of last season with Henoch-Schnlein purpura, or HSP, which is an inflammation of blood vessels. According to aafp.org, the condition is most common from ages 2-11, but can occur at any age, and takes weeks or months to recover from.

"He's back healthy, and we've had a great preseason at this point and we expect great things from him," said Buescher, whose team opens Friday at Mechanicsburg looking to avenge a 20-14 loss a year ago.

Senior center Josh Chenault will lead the offensive line.

Defensively, senior Kyle Ferguson is the leader. The linebacker also started on the offensive line in 2008, but is known for his ability to shut down opposing offenses.

"When you've got a linebacker as good as Kyle, we've got a chance to be successful," Buescher said. "Our big thing on that side of the ball is we've had to replace all four of our defensive backs."

Mendenhall and Gray will play safety with Smith and McDowell the leaders to play cornerback.

"We have a lot of new faces out there, but we feel good about it," he said. "We can be very successful out there."