The Dublin Jerome High School football team has ended each preseason practice with a simple chant in its group huddle -- "OCC champs."

The Dublin Jerome High School football team has ended each preseason practice with a simple chant in its group huddle -- "OCC champs."

After sharing the OCC-Cardinal Division title with Olentangy Liberty and Westerville South last season as all three teams went 5-2, the Celtics are seeking an outright championship in 2009.

Jerome is hoping to make a return trip to the postseason, as last year's team earned the program's second playoff berth, falling to Logan 23-7 in a Division II, Region 7 quarterfinal game to finish 6-5 overall.

Jerome, Liberty and South were followed by Olentangy (4-3), Marysville (4-3), Dublin Scioto (4-3), Westerville North (1-6) and Westerville Central (0-7) in the OCC.

Coach Mark Hundley believes his team has the potential to reach its goals but will have some question marks.

"We're not as deep at the skilled spots as I wish we were," Hundley said. "We're deep up front, which is very important, so we feel good about that. We lost a lot of seniors at some key positions and while we're just about as talented as we've been, we're probably just about as inexperienced as we were in year one. We're going to have some holes to fill and gain some experience fast."

Jerome must replace a talented senior class, with the key loss being quarterback Kevin Jackson, who is playing at the Air Force Academy.

Also gone are Cody Burris, Robert Carmona, Joe Horine and Connor Rosenbaum.

Jackson took over for Ryan Gannon in the third week after the underclassman suffered a season-ending collarbone injury. Gannon (6-foot-2, 185 pounds), is back to guide the offense as a junior.

"I'm so excited," Gannon said. "Coach Hundley always stresses that this is most athletic team we've had, the fastest, the strongest. Now we just need to come together, and we're going to be awesome. We're still working. We're a team 100 percent. We're not individuals out here, and we're working hard together. Each day we're getting a lot better."

Senior Steve Mehrer (6-0, 215) returns and is expected to contribute at running back and strong safety. Mehrer, who has received interest from several Division I schools, led the team in rushing last season with 780 yards and 11 touchdowns on 137 carries. He was named to the OCC-Cardinal Division first team.

"I can't wait," Mehrer said. "I'm pumped. It's a big senior year coming up. We have a lot of potential, and everyone is excited."

Junior Connor O'Brien (5-9, 180) and sophomore Ben Gueth (6-0, 170) also will see time in the backfield.

"I'd love to throw the ball, but our coaches tell us we have to be able to run the ball before we can throw," Gannon said. "We have to have teams be able to respect our run game before we can throw, and that's something we're improving on. We're going to run the ball first. If we can run the ball, then that's going to open the passing lanes for us."

Hundley noted that sophomore Cameron Wilson (6-2, 180) will split time at running back and wide receiver as the team runs both the double-wing and spread offenses.

Hundley is looking to replace the top two receivers in Carmona and Horine.

Joining Wilson at wide receiver should be senior A.J. Lowe (6-2, 185), and juniors Sean Decello (5-10, 170) and Chris Osbun (5-9, 175).

Senior Sean Sward (6-3, 220) will play tight end.

Hundley calls the offensive line one of the biggest and deepest groups in the program's history.

Leading the group should be junior tackle Josh Vradenburg (6-1, 220), who was second-team all-OCC last season.

Other players up front should include senior guard Cody Townsend (6-2, 235), senior tackle Trevor Mendelson (6-5, 275), junior guard Andrew Geisler (5-9, 215) and sophomore center Ryan Hallowell (5-9, 170).

When opponents have the ball, the Celtics will use a base 3-4 defense.

The defensive line should feature Sward, Townsend and Jack Beebe (6-2, 210) at end, and junior Cole O'Brien (5-9, 215) at nose guard.

Linebackers are O'Brien, senior Patrick Cooney (6-1, 195), junior Ian Hartitz (6-2, 190) and sophomore Austin Duncan (5-10, 185).

Joining Mehrer in the backfield should be Decello and Osbun at cornerback, junior cornerbacks Jordan Bonifas (5-11, 170) and Josh Walburg (5-6, 130), and junior free safety Renick Randall (5-9, 170).

Walburg is expected to miss at least the first three games after suffering a broken collarbone in the preseason.

Senior punter Eric Ruhl (6-3, 185) returns after averaging 47 yards a punt and being named first-team all-OCC.

Ruhl will share kicking duties with junior Alex Flexer (6-0, 175).

In the Celtics' quest for another league title, Hundley said he expects another wide-open race.

The team is looking forward to its Oct. 23 clash with Scioto, as it looks to avenge last season's 42-14 loss.

"I'd be happy if we qualified for the playoffs," Hundley said. "We should no doubt have a chance to fight for the league championship. I'm not going to tell you that we will win it, but we ought to have a chance to fight for it."