For the first time since 2002, the Lancaster High School football team didn't reach the playoffs. It also marked the first time since 2005 that the Golden Gales didn't earn at least a share of an OCC title.

For the first time since 2002, the Lancaster High School football team didn't reach the playoffs. It also marked the first time since 2005 that the Golden Gales didn't earn at least a share of an OCC title.

"Last year was kind of a big letdown, not making (the playoffs)," senior lineman Nathan Cheek said. "Kind of felt bad, kind of feeling like we were letting the tradition down. This year, we're hoping to get it all back up."

The Gales won their last four games in 2008 after a 2-4 start. But since so few varsity players are back, coach Rob Carpenter says momentum from that stretch is unlikely.

"Last year's team was last year's team," said Carpenter, a Lancaster native who played 10 seasons in the NFL. "We had our (financial) problems in the 2006 season. Our senior class this year were freshmen that year, and instead of having our 50-plus freshmen that we've had here for probably seven or eight years in a row leading up to that, because of the $400 pay-to-play, we only had 20 freshmen, which leads us now to basically having 11 seniors.

"This team is a very inexperienced team, very heavy on sophomores. We're still kind of feeling the backlash of that levy that many years ago."

Offensively, the Gales will have junior Nolan Flowers back at quarterback to run the wing-T, and senior Nathan Carpenter and junior Connor Smith return at wide receiver.

Senior Jayme Aksterowicz is the tight end, and also back along the offensive line are Cheek and senior Derek Kline.

Carpenter, a second-team all-district selection in 2008, is back in the secondary, along with Smith. Aksterowicz, Cheek and Kline anchor Lancaster's line for its base 4-3 defense.

"A lot of positions here are still wide-open," Carpenter said. "We had 30 seniors last year. Of the 73 kids on the roster (this year), I think there's probably only like 26 of those kids who were part of that group last year."

"We definitely need a lot of guys to step up," Cheek said. "We definitely need a lot more chatter, a lot more talking, getting a lot more guys involved.

"We've definitely been making improvements. We've got a lot of athletes, but we still need guys to step up, and we're not quite where we should be."

In addition to young players growing into new roles, Carpenter said a key will be avoiding the injury bug that hit the Gales last season.

"We had a deluge of injuries last year, more than we've had in probably the whole decade before all in one season," he said. "So we're hoping that that problem won't repeat itself again."

As for this year's OCC-Ohio race, Carpenter said it will be competitive again.

"It's always going to be a tough division. You get teams like Pickerington (Central) in there, who's always been a power, had some great individual athletes."