Having graduated 14 players, including a handful of all-district performers, from last year's 7-3 Buckeye Valley High School football team, senior center/defensive end Wyatt Pfeifer believes he knows what other squads are saying about this year's Barons.
He thinks opponents will overlook them.
"I'm sure there are teams out there saying, 'Oh, they lost this guy, they lost this guy, there is no way they are going to be able to fill those spots and be as good,'" said Pfeifer, one of just four returning starters. "But it is not necessarily just about the person, it is all about the team and how the team operates. I believe in my team and I know we're going to do well."
The 6-foot-3, 245-pound Pfeifer, who has verbally committed to play at Western Michigan, is confident in his team despite its youth and inexperience.
"We're going to go into each game with a chip on our shoulder, knowing that there are going to be teams that are going to think we're not strong enough," Pfeifer said. "Going in, we know that we have a job to do and we know that we have to get it done and we can't take any other team lightly like they might take us."
With many new faces being elevated into starting roles, this season could be looked at as a rebuilding one for Buckeye Valley. However, coach Mike Marshall doesn't see it that way.
"We graduated some really high-quality kids. We (had) six kids going to play college ball," Marshall said. "You don't replace that, but we have the comfort of knowing that the kids who we are replacing them with, they know what they are doing.
"I'd rather look at it as reloading than rebuilding. As a staff we have been pretty successful since we have been here, so that is the way I look at it."
On offense, the Barons will be in a multiple I-formation. Senior Kyle Doubikin is expected to take over at quarterback for 2013 graduate Caleb Green, a second-team all-district selection a year ago in Division III. In the backfield, sophomore Ben Kidwell, juniors Austin Harsh and Gavin Terry and senior Tucker Smith will see time at tailback and fullback.
The Barons' running game and secondary suffered a loss after junior Chris Burns sustained what Marshall called a "pretty severe concussion" during an Aug. 13 scrimmage at Thomas Worthington. According to Marshall, it was Burns' fourth concussion and doctors have said he can't play football anymore. The 5-8, 160-pounder would have started at tailback and defensive back for the Barons.
Buckeye Valley's wide receivers include seniors Garrett Purcell and Jake Spaulding, junior Austin Kelleher and sophomore Gabe Miller, with Gardon Wycoff as the primary tight end. Pfeifer and fellow senior Jack Baesman will anchor the offensive line.
On defense, the Barons will line up in a 4-3 set. Pfeifer and Baesman, along with senior Logan Dziak and junior David Praul, will see time on the defensive front. The linebacking corps will feature Kidwell, Harsh and Smith, with freshman Blayde McCully also seeing action.
Sophomore free safety Tim Schilling will lead the secondary, which also will include Terry, Miller and Purcell.
Last fall, the Barons started 1-2 before winning their next four and six of their final seven. They finished third in the MOAC-Red Division at 7-2, and this season Fairbanks and Jonathan Alder have joined the league.
The Barons open Friday, Aug. 30, at Delaware, a team they lost to 35-23 in the opener a year ago but defeated 38-32 in two overtimes to open the 2011 season. Marshall coached the Pacers for 11 years and retired as a teacher at Delaware in the spring. He is beginning his 28th year as a head coach, his 11th at Buckeye Valley.
"I like this team a lot," Marshall said. "Buckeye Valley is a typical rural community in Ohio. It is made up of good families that produce solid, hard-working, dedicated kids. That is the best to work with."
Pfeifer said it would be a mistake for opponents to look past the Barons.
"We've always been a tough team," he said. "We've always been a team to be under the radar but to come out on top. We're definitely not a team to count out."