Coach Brian Cross hopes the growing pains suffered this fall by the Olentangy Orange High School football team will pay dividends next season.
The Pioneers returned only one starter on offense and five on defense and finished 1-9 overall.
"It's difficult to overcome inexperience," said Cross, who completed his sixth season. "We had so many kids learning to play the game all season long. We were just so young.
"But one thing I've learned is that a year can make a big difference. If you take the experience that we gained this year and go in the weight room and work harder than ever before in the offseason to get stronger, quicker and faster, that can help a lot."
Orange finished seventh (1-6) in the OCC-Capital Division behind Worthington Kilbourne (7-0), New Albany (6-1), Olentangy (5-2), Mount Vernon (4-3), Delaware (3-4) and Big Walnut (2-5) and ahead of Franklin Heights (0-7).
The Pioneers had 18 seniors led by Jake Lewis, a three-year starter at linebacker who made 58 tackles and was first-team all-league. Also a tight end, he was the lone returning starter on offense.
Senior defensive lineman Cole Cunningham (16 tackles, 1.5 sacks) and senior linebacker Justin Gels (39 tackles, 1 interception) were second-team all-league. Senior defensive lineman Lenn's Kamba (27 tackles, 9.5 for loss, 2 sacks) was honorable mention all-league.
Senior running back Jake Bobrowski led the team with 354 yards rushing and one touchdown on 58 carries, and senior wide receiver Emmanuel Djan caught 10 passes for 130 yards and one touchdown. Senior defensive back Alec McCurry had three interceptions.
"It was tough for our seniors to play on teams that finished 8-2 (2011) and 6-4 (2012) and then to endure a season like this," Cross said. "They kept working hard and gave us their best effort they had until the end."
The Pioneers' victory was a 33-10 win over Franklin Heights on Oct. 18. Junior quarterback C.J. Stablein rushed for 101 yards and two touchdowns and passed for 135 yards and one score.
"Because of our lack of experience, by the middle of the year (our defense) showed a lot improvement in tackling and completing our defensive assignments," defensive coordinator Ted Papas said. "I attribute that to just being out there for five or six games and getting that game experience.
"The statistics might not always have shown how much we were improving. We played one of our best games against Kilbourne (28-7 loss Nov. 1) because they have a great offense and a tough option attack to defend. I was proud of that defensive performance."
Stablein completed 71 of 145 passes for 773 yards with four touchdowns and nine interceptions. Freshman Will Phillis (31-for-67, 400 yards, 1 touchdown, 4 interceptions) and junior Marco Ventresca (9-for-12, 114 yards, 1 touchdown) also saw time at quarterback.
Sophomore running back Tyler Lichter rushed for 222 yards and two touchdowns on 17 carries, and sophomore running back Blake Skuratowicz added 114 yards and two touchdowns on 28 carries. Two sophomores were the team's leading receivers in Matthew Collins (28 catches, 394 yards, 1 touchdown) and Hunter Shepherd (16 receptions, 237 yards, 1 touchdown).
Junior Nicolas Lee (OL/DL) was special mention all-league.
"I think the strength of our team next year might be our offensive and defensive lines," Cross said. "But the problem with that is that they might be the same kids (playing on both sides of the ball). We had some sophomores who might be able to step in if they work hard. We have a lot of hard work to do."