About this time a year ago, the Licking Heights High School football team was preparing for its Division II, Region 7 first-round playoff game against Marion-Franklin, which beat the Hornets 46-14.
On Sunday, Nov. 3, the Hornets are hoping to receive notification from the OHSAA about inclusion in the Division II, Region 5 playoffs, which begin Friday, Nov. 8.
Licking Heights was 8-1 overall and sixth in the computer ratings entering its regular-season finale Nov. 1 against Johnstown. A victory would've provided the Hornets with enough points to earn a playoff berth, as the top eight teams in the region advance to the postseason.
A playoff game would be a reprieve for senior offensive lineman Jacob Hopkins, who was a starter as a sophomore before a concussion changed his life. He was unable to play last season.
"We went 10-0 (in the regular season), won a league championship and reached the playoffs last season and I didn't feel like I was a part of it at all," Hopkins said. "They tried to keep me involved, let me film the games and things like that. But it wasn't the same.
"I wasn't out there with my guys, the guys I've played football with since we were real young. I had their backs and they had mine; that's the feeling you get on the field. But I wasn't there for them and I didn't get to experience last season. It was so hard to not be able to play and affect the games."
Hopkins thinks he suffered his concussion the first week of the 2011 season. He didn't speak up right away, but had trouble recalling plays and his assignments. Weeks passed before he told anyone, and doctors and team officials figured it out after he played seven more games.
"We figured it out in week eight and I suffered a lot of stress, lost some functions," Hopkins said. "I had memory loss and emotional issues, depression and anger. I missed weeks of school. It was miserable."
Hopkins is a member of a strong offensive line that has fueled the Hornets' potent rushing attack.
"He's a tremendous kid who values his opportunity to play and has played a large role in our success," coach Darren Waters sad. "He would have the ability to continue playing at the next level, but because of the risk, he may not. ... But we're so happy for him to get his chance to be a part of this special season."
Hopkins not only is a positive role model for his teammates, he has a positive outlook on life.
"We take a lot of things for granted in life and that's the big positive I took out of the situation," he said. "I am drooling every Friday night to get out there and play with my teammates. They've given me the chance to experience what I missed last season. Because of the risk, I won't play in college. The only reason I played this year was to finish what I started with my teammates all those years ago. I had to be there with them."
The Hornets have 24 seniors, and Waters thinks several will continue playing in college, including Doug Benniefield (WR/OLB), Cameron Claborn (OL/DT), Martell Davis (QB/DB), Ross Friel (OL/DE), Mike Hopewell (OT/DT), D.D. Kelso (LB), John Neary (FB/LB) and Aaron Tiller (DE).
"There are only 32 teams in (Division II) who make the playoffs and this senior class could be the first one here to ever make back-to-back appearances if things go right," Waters said. "It's a special group."
Cross country teams struggle in new arenas
The boys and girls cross country teams could take some time to adjust to competing in the LCL and in Division I.
Both struggled as they moved from the MSL-Ohio Division and jumped to the big-school postseason meets from Division II.
The girls team finished 13th (357 points) behind champion Gahanna (39) in the 14-team district 2 meet Oct. 19 at Watkins Memorial. The top five teams and top 20 individuals advanced to the regional meet Oct. 26 at Pickerington North.
In the LCL meet Oct. 12 at Watkins Memorial, the girls were seventh (182) behind Granville (29), Watkins Memorial (45), Newark Catholic (89), Licking Valley (130), Johnstown (143) and Heath (144) and ahead of Lakewood (194).
Freshman Paige Hartley led the Hornets at district, finishing in 20 minutes, 43.07 seconds to place 28th.
She was followed by freshman Tessa Kenney (71st, 22:59.16), sophomore Kirsten Reed (86th, 24:35.65), junior MacKenzie Myers (87th, 24:55.32) and senior Ashton Malicoate (89th, 25:18.16). Also competing were freshman Rachel Shemenski (91st, 25:32.15) and senior Christina Garrett (92nd, 26:07.38).
In the league meet, Hartley was 10th (20:39.38) and followed by Kenney (41st, 24:02.23), Myers (42nd, 24:04.88), Reed (44th, 24:14.41) and Shemenski (49th, 25:09.81).
With Garrett and Malicoate being the only seniors, the top four runners and five of the top seven are expected to return.
The boys team finished 14th (391) in the district 2 meet behind champion Dublin Jerome (23), as sophomore Anthony Haist (60th, 18:31.7) led the Hornets. He was followed by junior Vince Masoni (76th, 19:22.41), senior Tysson Olverson (80th, 19:38.52) and sophomores Alex Wilcox (84th, 19:58.57) and Brandon Haist (91st, 20:39.09). Also competing were sophomore Taylor Woolard (93rd, 21:40.25) and freshman Ethan Myers (95th, 22:40.8).
The Hornets finished sixth (149) in the LCL meet behind Granville (36), Watkins Memorial (45), Newark Catholic (86), Lakewood (113) and Licking Valley (144) and ahead of Johnstown (163) and Heath (239). Anthony Haist (16th, 17:51.91), Olverson (27th, 18:47.57), Masoni (30th, 18:53.07) Wilcox (36th, 19:32.20) and Brandon Haist (42nd, 20:01.71) scored.
With Olverson the lone senior and Masoni the only junior, the Hornets should return a young squad next season as they try to build the program.