Rex Sponhaltz fully understands there are no quick fixes when it comes to turning around the Lakewood High School football team's recent misfortunes.

Rex Sponhaltz fully understands there are no quick fixes when it comes to turning around the Lakewood High School football team's recent misfortunes.

There almost certainly will be tough times as Sponhaltz returns for his second stint as coach of the Lancers. It's the way the players and coaching staff respond to the daunting challenges that lie ahead that ultimately will determine whether the season is a success.

"How we react to adversity will determine our fate," said Sponhaltz, who also coached the team during the 1991 and '92 seasons as he concluded a four-year tenure as the school's athletic director.

Lakewood finished 1-9 overall last season and went 1-6 in the MSL-Ohio Division to place seventh behind champion Licking Valley (7-0).

It is a combined 8-52 since making its only playoff appearance in 2001, laboring through a winless season in '03.

The Lancers scored only 38 points in 2006 and, since upsetting Granville 14-6 in the league opener in 2005, their only MSL-Ohio victories have come against Whitehall, including 37-34 in overtime a year ago.

"The numbers aren't pretty, obviously," said Sponhaltz, whose team opens Friday at West Muskingum, a senior-laden opponent with a roster littered with third-year starters. "But we have an athletic senior class and they have an opportunity to help shape our future. We will look to them to set the tone."

Sponhaltz, who took over for Scott Elwer after Elwer compiled a 6-34 record in four seasons, has implemented changes he hopes will give his players a fighting chance.

First, the wing-T base offense has been scrapped in favor of a multiple-set look heavy on I-formations.

"We need to be more of a north-south type team," said Sponhaltz, who has spent much of the past decade teaching and coaching in North Carolina. "We have to find a way to keep our offense on the field more. If you don't do that, it just puts way too much pressure on your defense. And once your defense breaks down or wears down, well, you're in a world of trouble."

Senior Jordan Gray (5-foot-10, 180 pounds) started at quarterback last year, but he's competing against junior Chad Auber (6-0, 160) in the preseason. Gray, who also will play free safety, has more experience and may be more athletic, but Auber would bring more of a traditional drop-back look to the position.

Seniors Zyon Mirise (5-10, 165) and Jacob Gray (5-10, 195) are expected to be at tailback and fullback, respectively, and for a real power look, the Lancers can throw senior Joe Bowman (5-10, 200) into the mix.

Classmate Vance Johnson (6-1, 180) will be a versatile contributor on defense and also will line up as a receiver, as will seniors Brock Nichols (5-8, 155) and Travis Lester (5-11, 190) and sophomore Trey Read (5-11, 160).

The offensive line will feature seniors Jake Kumler (6-4, 195) at one tackle spot and Scott Moran (6-2, 305) at the other. Moran played center last year. Look for seniors Cory Hosom (5-9, 190) and Josiah Olson (5-11, 200), among others, at guard, with senior Chris Sarnes (6-1, 225) at center. Seth Vierstra (6-2, 185) will play tight end.

On defense, Sponhaltz nixed the 4-3 scheme in favor of a 50 defense, with several of the offensive linemen going both ways. The linebackers, in particular, play a key role in the 50 formation. Look for Mirise, Bowman, Jacob Gray and Vierstra to see a lot of playing time in the middle of the defense. Other spots, including the secondary, still were being evaluated in preseason.

"Coach Elwer didn't leave the cupboards bare, that's for sure," Sponhaltz said. "But our greatest friend or our greatest enemy might be ourselves. We just need to start fostering a winning mentality."

Sponhaltz, 56, led the Lancers to a 6-4 record in his second season in 1992. He left to coach at Big Walnut, where he stayed for five seasons and helped lay the foundation for future success, which included joining the OCC for the 1997-98 school year. The Golden Eagles, who went 23-27 under Sponhaltz from 1993-97, made the playoffs six of 11 seasons under his successor, Scott Wetzel, and won the Division III state championship in 2007.

"I recommended Scott for the job, which I guess has worked out pretty well," Sponhaltz said, laughing.

"Hopefully, maybe a little of that magic will rub off. Of course, part of the magic is simply working hard."