The coaching staff for the Canal Winchester High School football team has spent considerable time during the preseason figuring out which players would replace the 15 starters from a year ago who graduated.
Third-year coach Shawn Hinkle was in a similar predicament in 2011 when he inherited a team that needed to replace 13 starters. The Indians went on to finish 7-3 that season, and Hinkle is optimistic that his team will find a way to win this season.
Last season, Canal Winchester finished 9-3 and made its fifth playoff appearance in six years, losing to Marion-Franklin 44-14 in a Division II, Region 7 semifinal.
"This team resembles the team we had two seasons ago because we've got so many new guys battling for starting positions, and I hope we can mimic that team by having a winning season," said Hinkle, whose team opens Friday, Aug. 30, at home against Olentangy. "Our seniors were sophomores when the 2011 season took place and they witnessed how we were able to start from scratch and be successful, so they know it can be done."
The Indians return three starters from their spread offense in seniors Zach Bontempo (QB), Jalen Smith (WR) and junior Skyler Scott (WR). Bontempo had seven catches for 78 yards last year as a wide receiver but has moved under center to replace 2013 graduate Isaac Pifer.
Last season, Scott had 31 catches for 666 yards and six touchdowns and was honorable mention all-district and second-team all-MSL-Buckeye Division and Smith had 14 receptions for 132 yards.
Combining to replace the duo of John Franklin and Jaquan Ransome at the running back position are
Seniors Khari Golden and Edosa Omoruyi, junior Lamont Martin and freshman Alonzo Booth are vying for time at running back as the Indians' top two rushers from a year ago -- Jaquan Ransome and John Franklin -- graduated.
Ransome rushed for 1,076 yards and 17 touchdowns on 156 carries and was second-team all-district and first-team all-league last year and Franklin rushed for 890 yards and 10 touchdowns on 178 carries and was honorable mention all-district and second-team all-league.
Among those expected to start on the offensive line are seniors Tommy Haughn and Kevin Wade and junior Ryan Kaser.
"Our offense is looking a lot better than we were expecting it to look this early because we had a lot to replace on the offensive line," Bontempo said. "Our running backs and receivers are fast and our linemen are doing a good job. I feel good about where we're at heading into the regular season."
Canal Winchester returns four starters on its 3-5 stack defense in Golden (DB), Martin (LB), Scott (LB) and senior William Totten (DB).
Last season, Golden, who plays free safety, had 100 tackles, eight interceptions and two forced fumbles and was second-team all-district and all-league.
Junior Elante Moore also is expected to start at linebacker and will handle the punting duties again.
Also expected to be key players on defense are senior Earnest Banks at nose guard and senior Jermil Powell at cornerback.
Among the key losses on defense was 2013 graduate DeOntaye Cosby, a lineman who had 132 tackles, 13 sacks, five forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries last season and was named Division II district Defensive Player of the Year and MSL-Buckeye Lineman of the Year.
"We have a lot of good athletes who we believe are going to make plays for us on defense," Hinkle said. "We just need to use our scrimmages to find out who fits best in the different positions that are available."
Canal Winchester is in Division II, Region 5 this season and, after winning the MSL-Buckeye title a year ago, has moved to the OCC-Cardinal with Dublin Jerome, Dublin Scioto, Hilliard Bradley, Hilliard Darby, Westerville Central, Westerville North and Westerville South.
"The other schools in the OCC(-Cardinal) are bigger than us, but we're not afraid of them," Bontempo said. "We just played New Albany (Aug. 16 in a scrimmage) and we tied them at four touchdowns each, and they were one of the better (OCC-Capital) teams last year. At the end of the day, it's still football and it comes down to who works harder and plays better."