Coach Mike Collier isn't making too big of a deal about the Heath High School football team's return to Division IV.

Coach Mike Collier isn't making too big of a deal about the Heath High School football team's return to Division IV.

"It's a little tougher climb if you make the playoffs, sure, but it doesn't change anything in terms of the points you need to get there in the first place," he said. "There have been years when we would have made it in one division and not the other, and vice versa. Besides, all that works itself out if you just go out and win ballgames consistently."

The Bulldogs, who last competed in Division IV in 2006, are coming off a 7-3 season, which was their best showing since finishing 8-2 in '05. They missed the postseason by one spot both years.

Last year, the team was ranked fifth in its region through eight games before falling to Granville 35-21 and to Bexley 40-27 in MSL-Ohio Division play. Both the Blue Aces and the Lions reached the Division III playoffs.

Hence, the chase for the Heath's first playoff berth since 1990 continues.

"We want to make it and go as far as possible. That goes without saying, really," said Dylan Wethey, a senior lineman and four-year starter. "But there's a lot of work to do before we can even really think about that."

The Bulldogs, who open Friday against visiting Middletown Madison, seemingly possess the offensive firepower to make another run at the postseason, even if several skills position players such as tailback Cameron Ross have graduated and another game-changer, junior Arsenio White, moved out of state.

Senior Charles Gresham (5-foot-11, 170 pounds) is a proven commodity at wide receiver and kick returns, and it looks like he's the new tailback after earning first-team all-district honors at receiver. Juniors Nelson Scott (5-10, 160) and Blake Libby (6-1, 175) will line up as fullbacks behind returning junior quarterback Cole Benner (5-10, 160), a dual threat as a passer and runner who was honorable mention all-district.

Up front, Wethey (6-1, 250) is the left tackle while junior Travis Drumm (6-2, 210) and senior Devin Boucher (5-10, 205) also will play key roles. Drumm played center last year but might be moving to right tackle. Senior Tim Patterson (6-0, 175) is the likely tight end on a line that will look much different than last season. Wethey made first-team all-district.

"We have skill guys who can do good things with the ball, and it's the line's job to make sure we can get the ball into those guys' hands," Wethey said. "We're not a real big line so we have to use our feet and show good technique. We have to out-hit and out-work the guys across from us."

Wethey also will be part of a more experienced defensive line at one of the end spots as Boucher and juniors Aaron Wolfe (6-1, 190) and Nate Hunt (5-11, 165) all return. The secondary is expected to include senior Daniel Combs (5-11, 170) at one of the safety spots in addition to juniors Jordan Crabill (5-7, 135) and Justyn Eckard (5-8, 130) and sophomore Evan Fry (5-9, 140). Combs made first-team all-district last season.

Collier, who stresses run defense, likes the makeup of an entirely new group of linebackers with as many as five in the rotation, including Drumm and Libby. The others could include Scott, junior Wade Ross (5-10, 185) and sophomore Derek Yahn (5-11, 160).

"I think those guys will be as good as last year's bunch," said Collier, who graduated Josh Sayre, Kyle Barrick and linebacker Ross, among others.

The Bulldogs started 4-0 a year ago and were 7-1 entering the final two games, which included a 26-7 win over Newark Catholic in the sixth week. They finished fourth (4-3) in the MSL-Ohio won by Licking Valley (7-0).

This season, a particularly tough stretch comes early when Heath plays three consecutive road games beginning Sept. 4 at defending MBC champion Johnstown, a Division V playoff qualifier last year which also moved up and will join the Bulldogs in Division IV, Region 15.

Heath then plays at Utica, which finished 7-3 a year ago and missed the Region 15 playoffs by one spot, and at Licking Valley, a Division III state semifinalist. Those three opponents combined for a 28-8 record .

"We're going to have to get it together right out of the gate," said Collier, whose career record is 43-37 entering his ninth season at Heath. "We can't hit any foul balls."