With just two winning seasons in the last two decades, the Thomas Worthington High School football team has grown weary of talking about improvement that fails to show up on the scoreboard on Friday nights.

With just two winning seasons in the last two decades, the Thomas Worthington High School football team has grown weary of talking about improvement that fails to show up on the scoreboard on Friday nights.

The Cardinals endured their ninth consecutive losing season last fall, finishing 2-8 overall and 2-5 in the OCC-Central Division to place fifth behind Upper Arlington (7-0), Hilliard Davidson (6-1), Worthington Kilbourne (5-2), Dublin Coffman (4-3) and Hilliard Darby (3-4) and ahead of Central Crossing (1-6) and Westland (0-7).

Led by a strong group of returning seniors, the Cardinals believe this is the season to re-establish the program. Third-year coach Scott Gordon senses a dramatic change in the attitude of his players.

"These guys have worked awfully hard in the offseason and we've told them that it's going to pay dividends," said Gordon, whose team opens Friday at Jonathan Alder. "They believe in the things we're doing that can make them a good football team, and we're hoping it will carry over to the playing field this year."

The Cardinals again will showcase their passing game. Senior quarterback Sam Bohon (5-foot-10, 170 pounds), who threw for more than 1,800 yards last year, is back, as are three starters on the offensive line in seniors J.P. May (6-6, 260), Nate McCarville (6-0, 245) and Cody Seevers (5-11, 255). Last season, the line provided solid protection for Bohon, allowing only nine sacks in more than 400 pass attempts.

Bohon's two main targets -- Vance Frederick and Dustin Armstrong -- graduated. Among those expected to fill the void at wide receiver are seniors Collin Lisi (6-0, 185) and Eric Garris (5-11, 165), who missed all of last season with a knee injury. Sophomore Jordan Cowgill (6-8, 225) will start at tight end.

The Cardinals, who expect to rely more on their running game, return their top two running backs from a year ago in senior Jake Sharick (6-0, 183) and Justin Dugan (5-9, 175). In addition, senior Nate Easley (5-11, 175) returns after missing last season because of academic ineligibility.

"We're still going to air it out," Bohon said, smiling. "But this year, it's not going to be a 90-10 pass-to-run ratio. We'll have a solid running game that allows us to be more even as an offense. We can work for 5 yards and string together long drives, not go for the touchdown every play."

On defense, the Cardinals return five starters in senior lineman Staten Brady (6-0, 209), junior lineman Tyler Meisse (6-4, 220), senior linebackers Sam Adams (5-11, 195) and Josh Fuller (5-11, 255) and junior linebacker Michael Pisching (5-10, 190).

Adams shifts from outside linebacker to middle linebacker to replace Michael Brankamp, who led the team in tackles a year ago. Fuller played on the line last year.

On special teams, senior Jake Szabo returns as place-kicker and senior Josh Perger will handle the punting duties. Szabo showed off his range last year, making field goals of 48 and 51 yards.

Because the South-Western City School's 8.3-mill levy failed Aug. 4, Westland and Central Crossing -- the only league opponents the Cardinals defeated last year -- are not fielding teams this season.

Replacing them on the schedule are non-league games against New Albany and Watkins Memorial.

"We know how much better we are, but once we win it's going to be a huge relief," Adams said. "We don't have any goals or anything because we're tired of talking about it. That's the way we feel: Just shut your mouth and go win."