Even though the Newark High School football team scored only 65 points a year ago, coach Jeff Buchanan's emphasis during the offseason was re-tooling the defense.

Even though the Newark High School football team scored only 65 points a year ago, coach Jeff Buchanan's emphasis during the offseason was re-tooling the defense.

Assistant Jerry Cook is the new coordinator, and the Wildcats will follow several other area teams in recent years in switching from a 4-3 to a base 50 defense.

"We just felt we needed to tighten up defensively," said Buchanan, who is entering his second season with the Wildcats. "We're attacking more and tackling without hesitation. Jerry's doing a terrific job, and we think we have a chance to be a pretty good defensive football team."

The Wildcats gave up an average of 27.4 points a year ago while finishing 1-9 overall and 0-7 in the OCC-Ohio Division won by Pickerington Central (7-0)

They will be led defensively up front by senior tackle James Olt (6-foot, 250 pounds). Also look for seniors James Goodin (6-1, 215) at an end spot and Mark George (5-10, 225) at nose guard.

Junior Robert Cole (6-2, 240), who played on the line last year, is moving to inside linebacker, where promising junior Keenan Williams (6-3, 210) also will play.

The secondary will include senior John Pritchett and junior Andrew Nelson at the safety positions. The corners include senior Justin Whiteside and seniors Connor Kibler, Reid Kibler and D-Juan Booker.

"We're ready to get after it," Olt said. "I think last year we played a little hesitant. We're all a year older and a year stronger now, so we're going to go out and play hard-nosed football."

Challenges await, however, especially for a team with a combined 9-21 record since the Wildcats won back-to-back OCC-Ohio titles in 2004-05, with the '05 team qualifying for the Division I playoffs. The Wildcats are 1-16 in league play since 2006.

"All of us, and especially maybe the seniors, we want to go out and have a big year and bring Newark football back to where it was," Olt said.

That being said, a case could be made that the Wildcats still might be a year away, especially with so many juniors playing key roles.

"There's probably some truth to that, but I wouldn't want to sell these seniors short because they're a determined bunch," Buchanan said. "Everything we do is geared toward improvement. This team can be competitive, and we're trying to lay a foundation at the same time."

Offensively, juniors Luis Irazarry-Romero and Brandon Clay were competing to be the starting quarterback in preseason, and Buchanan said he might run some option out of the multiple-formation sets to take advantage of Irazarry-Romero's athleticism and pitch fakes. Sophomore Dalton Clapper also has been taking snaps.

Overall inexperience is a weakness on offense, however, and all of the running backs in line to see significant playing time are juniors. They include Andre Nelson and Kyle Hoy in addition to fullbacks Cole and Williams. Pritchett will be one of the receivers, and Buchanan said he likes the team's quickness on the perimeter.

Olt, Goodin and George also will play on the offensive line as will juniors Zach Bennett (6-1, 265) and James Triplett (6-5, 245), among others. Senior Ryan Ettenhofer (6-2, 235) is expected to be the starting center.

The Wildcats are hoping to take advantage of the return of several players who were ineligible last season, but Buchanan said the offense must stay away from turnovers if it hopes to improve.

"We've got a better work ethic and the guys are taking care of things they're supposed to," he said. "I know I'm ready to go to battle with these guys."

Conditioning also might play a key role as the Wildcats conclude the regular season with four top opponents, including rival Lancaster in the finale on the road Oct. 30. With the levy failure in South-Western City Schools, non-league Upper Arlington is taking OCC-Ohio member Grove City's spot on Oct. 9 for Homecoming.

Newark also plays Oct. 16 at Pickerington Central and Oct. 23 at home against Pickerington North, which won last year's game 24-6 while finishing 5-5. The Gales are looking to bounce back after going 6-4, and both the Golden Bears and Central made the playoffs last year while finishing 10-2 and 13-1 respectively.

All told, those four opponents went 34-12 a year ago. Central, which posted its second consecutive undefeated regular season after reaching the Division II state final in 2006, advanced to a state semifinal.

"We'll have to make sure we've got gas left in the tank," Buchanan said. "That's a tough stretch for any team to face."