Unable to play last season, the Central Crossing High School football team is ready to put the South-Western City Schools' levy failure in the past.

Unable to play last season, the Central Crossing High School football team is ready to put the South-Western City Schools' levy failure in the past.

But it won't be easy.

The residual effects of losing a season and the subsequent departure of players and coaches is going to be felt this season and perhaps longer. The Comets are young, undersized and play in a league with teams that have large rosters.

Of the 80 players who came out for Central Crossing, more than 30 are freshmen. In addition, most of the seniors sat out last year, which would have been the first on varsity for many of them.

"A lot of people are comparing it to when the school first opened eight years ago," first-year coach Chris Harr said. "Without having sports and football (last fall), we lost a lot of kids to other schools. We had only a couple of kids come back out of all the kids that left."

Still others who didn't leave chose not to come out this year, not wanting to be part of such an extreme building process.

When the Comets first started as a program in 2002, they played a mostly Division I schedule without seniors and struggled each week en route to an 0-10 record. The Comets, who were 1-9 in 2008, are 11-59 in seven seasons.

"Some guys were (not going to play) because we're not going to be as good," senior offensive and defensive lineman Aaron Richmond said. "One thing people have to remember, it's not about how good you are. If you go out and work harder than that other person, you're bound to win."

Hare - whose squad has been holding three-a-day practices during the preseason while most area teams hold two-a-days - would prefer not to use players on both sides of the ball, but he said that about half of the starters will be two-way players.

If that wasn't enough, the Comets lost one of their better camp performers during the second week of practice when sophomore running back Kevin Bass suffered a broken wrist as he was solidifying a spot as the starting tailback. He's expected back during the season, but his injury has had a ripple effect.

Harr has had to shift the already limited number of players at his disposal. Many of the players who were expected to play receiver in Central Crossing's multiple-spread offense could be logging time at running back. They'll run behind a line anchored by Richmond (5-foot-11, 274 pounds) and senior center Brock Legg (6-3, 300).

Juniors Justin Jones and sophomore Tori Clark were expected to play receiver, but could also see time at running back with Bass out. Jones played at Columbus West last season. Clark hasn't played in high school, but he was a regional finalist in the long jump last spring.

Senior Jordan Keaton, who played defensive back at Grove City Christian last season, also could see time at running back in addition to in the secondary.

Keaton, who is expected to handle the punting duties and return kicks, also is competing with junior Dylan Simpson to be the starting quarterback. Junior Nathaniel Huffman is expected to play fullback and will anchor the 4-3 defense at middle linebacker.

"We'll find ways to eat clock," Harr said of the offense. "It's not so much that you have to go all the way and score a touchdown. We don't want 10 seconds and out. We want to be able to take some time off the clock."

Keaton said it is important to get the school excited about Central Crossing football. He played in a defensive backfield last year that had several players from Grove City. When those players left to go back to Grove City, Keaton felt it was natural to go back to where he came from, despite playing for a program that had great success.

Last season, Grove City Christian went 12-2 and reached a Division VI state semifinal before losing to eventual state champion Norwalk St. Paul 52-7.

"I want this to be the first team to start the tradition of winning games," Keaton said. "I want to be one of the players that started everything."

Joining Keaton in the secondary is senior Jason Coakley, who didn't play last season.

"We've been talking about starting the new tradition," Coakley said. "We want to bring spirit to Central Crossing. We want everybody to believe in us. We want to show people that when they play us, don't just scratch it off as a win. We want to come out lights out and smack people."

Coakley and Keaton are among the leaders of a defense that Harr hopes will keep opponents off balance.

"One thing I like to do is play a lot of coverages," Harr said. "We're going to give the other team a lot of different looks behind our blitzes."

Along with Huffman at linebacker is sophomore Dylan Meinsen, who also plays tight end.

The Comets' best season was in 2003 when they were 3-7. Among the opponents they will face are Mifflin, which was 2-8 last year, and Franklin Heights and Westland, which also are rebuilding programs after losing a year because of the levy failure.

"This year I feel like something special is going to happen because everybody that's here is willing to sacrifice everything to win," Richmond said.

"It's great to be back on the field hitting and breaking people, all those feelings that you miss from before. It's an overwhelming feeling to be back with all the coaches and your brothers on the field."