The Delaware Hayes High School football team is optimistic about the future despite a combined 9-21 record the past three seasons.
The Pacers finished 3-7 overall for the third consecutive season and 2-5 in the OCC-Capital Division after losing to Olentangy 42-10 on Oct. 26.
"We're losing only three guys who started all season and five overall if you count guys who were starters early but didn't play a full season due to injuries," second-year coach Zebb Schroeder said. "We'll return eight guys who will be third-year starters next season. It's a large group who had success in middle school and as freshmen, but nothing's guaranteed."
The Pacers lose 12 seniors, including quarterback Alex Rafeld, running back Taylor Adair, receiver Alex Hohe, outside linebacker Austin Arthur and defensive end Stone Banks-Herrell.
Rafeld was 127-for-236 passing for 1,758 yards with 13 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. Adair ran for 326 yards, caught 19 passes for 237 yards and scored nine touchdowns. Hohe had nine catches for 145 yards and a touchdown.
Banks-Herrell suffered a concussion during a 35-13 loss to Big Walnut on Sept. 22 and never returned. Arthur was one of the Pacers' leading tacklers.
Rafeld was the team's only first-team all-league selection.
"Rafeld had a tremendous season and we put a lot on his plate," Schroeder said. "He has a great heart and mind for the game. He was calling plays and getting guys in their positions. He was like a general out there and he'll definitely be difficult to replace."
To fit the personnel the team is expected to have next season, Schroeder said he may change the offensive scheme to rely more on ball control.
Delaware averaged 19.2 points per game and allowed 31.1. Both averages dropped from 2011, when the Pacers were outscored by an average of 35.7 to 22.2.
"We return five starters on the offensive line and three good running backs," Schroeder said. "We need to take advantage of our strengths. I don't believe in running the same system year after year. We need to change to fit our personnel.
"We've got 10 guys back on defense who started for most of the season. We can use them and a strong running game and play at a slower pace. We can be an opportunistic offense. That's the way we're leaning right now as we look at next season."
Still, Delaware is expected to return two solid receivers in juniors Jante' Wright (49 catches, 584 yards, 7 touchdowns) and Caleb Howell (40 catches, 701 yards, 2 touchdowns).
The returning running backs include juniors Theoun Sorn (286 yards rushing on 61 carries) and Cody Wooten (160 yards on 35 carries) and sophomore Ernest Bonsu.
Linemen expected back include juniors Tyler Harris, Reece Kotaka, Andrew Sierawski and Collin Wittig and sophomore Austin Kimbro.
Wright and Wittig were second-team all-league and Howell was special mention. Junior linebacker Shawn Johnson was honorable mention.
Joining Johnson among the defensive standouts expected to return are Wright (5 interceptions) and junior Connor Ulmer in the secondary, freshman Ethan Tucky at linebacker, Sierawski and junior James Wegmiller at ends and Harris at tackle.
"In addition to those eight third-year starters, we have a ton of experience returning thanks to the injury situation this season," Schroeder said. "If you count guys who started at least a few games, we're likely to have 25 or so. It's a good starting point."
Three of the Pacers' losses were to playoff teams. They lost to Canal Winchester 42-23 on Aug. 31, to New Albany 26-13 on Sept. 28 and to Olentangy. Canal Winchester and New Albany both were 9-2 before playing in their respective Division II, Region 7 semifinals Nov. 9, and Olentangy was 10-1 before playing a Division I, Region 3 semifinal Nov. 10.
Delaware's victories were against Buckeye Valley (35-23 in the opener Aug. 24), Mount Vernon (21-14 on Oct. 12) and Franklin Heights (25-0 on Oct. 19). Buckeye Valley finished 7-3, Mount Vernon was 5-5 and Franklin Heights went 2-8.
The Pacers tied Watkins Memorial for sixth in the league. New Albany (7-0) won its fourth consecutive OCC-Capital title and was followed by Olentangy (6-1), Big Walnut and Olentangy Orange (both 4-3) and Mount Vernon (3-4). Franklin Heights (0-7) followed the Pacers and Warriors.
"We had good leadership this season, but next year's seniors know a lot has been expected of them and they know the final chapter in their careers starts Dec. 3 in the weight room," Schroeder said. "Will they be the leaders I anticipate? Will they be leaders in the classroom? Will they become better football players? Those are the things they need to answer."
Top runners expected to return
The boys and girls cross country teams are expected to return most of their regular lineups next season.
The season ended for both teams in the Division I district meet Oct. 20 at Watkins Memorial.
The girls team finished eighth (265) behind champion Dublin Coffman (31) in the 15-team district 2 race.
The top five teams and top 20 individuals advanced to the regional Oct. 27 at Pickerington North.
Scoring for the Pacers were sophomore Emily Richards (25th, 21 minutes, .86 seconds), sophomore Sammi Piroska (49th, 22:28.43), senior Sierra Mollenkopf (60th, 23:09.52), sophomore Sam Curtain (64th, 23:27.86) and senior Harlee Mollenkopf (67th, 23:36.32). Also competing were junior Courtney White (68th, 23:38.31) and freshman Megan Swisher (70th, 23:41.92).
Delaware finished sixth (140) in the OCC-Capital meet Oct. 13 at Lancaster. The Pacers finished behind champion New Albany (33), Orange (65), Olentangy (82), Watkins Memorial (84) and Big Walnut (127) and ahead of Mount Vernon (155).
The boys team was 12th (312) in the 15-team district 2 race as Hilliard Davidson (34) won.
Scoring were junior Jason Watkins (41st, 18:12.37), senior Thomas Oliver (56th, 18:32.48), junior Jacob Rumbalski (64th, 18:47.34), sophomore Drew Williams (75th, 19:34.37) and sophomore Sid Campbell (76th, 19:35.43). Also in the lineup were sophomore Grant Gannon (79th, 20:00.86) and junior Adam Crosbie (80th, 20:08.73).
In the league meet, Delaware was fifth (144) behind champion New Albany (32), Olentangy (56), Orange (91) and Watkins Memorial (115) and ahead of Mount Vernon (145) and Big Walnut (151).