Worthington Kilbourne High School football coach Vince Trombetti had plenty to deal with during preseason two-a-day practices.

Worthington Kilbourne High School football coach Vince Trombetti had plenty to deal with during preseason two-a-day practices.

Only six starters returned from last season's team that finished 9-3 overall after losing 21-7 to Hilliard Davidson in a Division I, Region 3 semifinal.

In the OCC-Central Division, Kilbourne finished third at 5-2 behind Upper Arlington (7-0) and Hilliard Davidson (6-1).

As Trombetti worked to bring the inexperienced team up to speed on the field, he was unable to find solace off the field. Maintenance work at the school disabled the air conditioning and, at times, the power to the locker room.

"It was ripe in there," Trombetti said. "It was fine when it was in the 70s, but when it got hotter I had the kids eat lunch outside where the air wasn't so stagnant."

Despite the tribulations inside, progress was being made outside as Kilbourne looks to make it two consecutive playoff appearances. It occurred only once before in program history in 2004 and 2005.

"We tried to put that out there for the kids," said Trombetti, who is in his fourth season. "It's not our main point of emphasis. Without a doubt, we had a talented group of seniors last year. They're gone. They moved on. Now it's time for this senior group to step up and make their mark."

Overall numbers are slightly down, but the offseason dedication remained strong led by the incoming senior class that includes defensive end Jason Cunningham.

"Everyone is being positive with each other," Cunningham said. "If someone makes a mistake, we're not there screaming and yelling at them. We're staying upbeat trying to get everyone else excited for the season."

Cunningham highlights Kilbourne's returning starters. At 6-foot-4 and 225 pounds, Cunningham will need to be accounted for by opponents' offensive lines.

"Without a doubt, Cunningham is our most physical kid, period," Trombetti said. "He's got great technique, and it'll be difficult for teams to run off tackle to his side. I would not be surprised if teams checked over."

Opposite Cunningham returns senior defensive end Robbie Schram (6-4, 184) while senior defensive tackle Brian Skura (6-7, 258) will see a majority time at offensive tackle.

Joining Skura on Kilbourne's offensive line as returning starters are guards Jeff Holzaepfel (6-1, 244) and Josh Keller (6-2, 240) and center Matt Skura (6-4, 260).

"Brian Skura has that great frame a lot of colleges are looking for," Trombetti said. "Because of that size, he'll primarily play the offensive line.

"Even though we don't have a lot of players back, we have them back in the right places with our interior three back on the offensive line. I'd rather have average backs with a great offensive line than the other way around. If you can open holes, even I can run through them."

Looking to benefit the most from those large holes is senior quarterback Nathan Sparks (6-0, 170).

Sparks moves over from defensive back to replace three-year starter Aaron Kingcade. Last season, Kingcade was first-team all-district as he finished with 772 yards rushing on 161 attempts and 13 touchdowns and was 60-for-124 passing for 993 yards and seven touchdowns.

"I've always been an on-and-off quarterback," Sparks said. "It's not like it's new to me. It's a change from last year, but I'm taking it in stride and doing the best I can."

Trombetti's concerns that Kilbourne did not have experience in its backfield were wiped away during last basketball season. Trombetti witnessed Sparks average a team-high 15.3 points.

"You watch how he moves and how he wants the ball in his hands to make things happen," Trombetti said. "In our scheme, that has to be the quarterback. I've been very pleased with the way he's come on at quarterback. If we can get him in the open field, he'll be hard to catch."

Also back with varsity experience are seniors Will Campbell (CB; 6-5, 191); Tim Gebert (FB; 5-11, 185) and Pete Worley (DB; 5-9, 137).

Worley makes up for his lack of size by his up-tempo style of play. Gebert was expecting to return to defense, but he is now slated for fullback to replace graduate Mike Johnson who rushed for 555 yards and 10 touchdowns on 115 attempts. Campbell, who was offered a scholarship to play lacrosse at North Carolina, returns after missing last season with an injury. With so few experienced players back, Cunningham has heard doubters. He's using that as motivation.

"You can doubt us, but wait until you see us play," he said. "We'll come out and get after it every time."

Trombetti hopes that translates into wins early. Kilbourne's non-conference schedule is down to two games. The Wolves open at home against Groveport on Friday and play at home against Dublin Scioto on Sept. 11. Kilbourne was scheduled to play Grove City on Sept. 4, but the failure of the South-Western City Schools levy canceled sports in that district. Kilbourne has been unable to fill that date.

A strong start that Trombetti desires may have to do more with conditioning than experience. Each season, Kilbourne holds a running test that must be passed in order for a player to be considered for one of the top two spots on the depth chart.

"We used to be lucky to pass 60 percent a long time ago," Trombetti said. "Within the last three years, nothing was below 80. Last year it was 92 percent and right now we're at 93. We could see last year early in the season and toward the end of games, other teams would run out of gas and we didn't. We used that to our advantage and got off to a good start."

Kilbourne won four consecutive games and five of six to start last season.

A similar output could drastically change the Wolves' outlook this season.

"Until they get that confidence, you never know what you're going to get," Trombetti said. "If we have early success, we'll get that confidence and it'll feed on itself and we'll be ready to face anybody."