Since taking over the program in 2011, Lewis Carter has tried to be ready for whatever daily task might await him as the Columbus East High School football coach.
During the summer, that includes picking up players in a van and driving them to practice. This fall, he hopes his shepherding of a roster of just 35 players can produce another step forward and continue the improvement the Tigers displayed a year ago.
East followed a 1-9 finish in Carter's first season by improving to 5-5 overall, including a 2-5 record in the City League-North Division.
The Tigers open Friday, Aug. 30, at Hamilton Township, which will mark their first game against a non-City League program since 2008. During the past four seasons, the non-conference schedule was comprised solely of City-South opponents. East also plays Sept. 13 at Westland, a member of the OCC-Central.
"I'm becoming more of a coach, mentor, father figure," Carter said. "I feel like we're going in the right direction. Each year's a different year so we don't know what to expect, but right now our main goal is to get better, game one. Each year I feel like I'm growing as a head coach."
Several players who helped East improve by four victories a year ago are back, led by senior quarterback James Curry (5-foot-9, 170 pounds), senior wide receiver and defensive back Zay'on Mock (5-10, 165) and senior middle linebacker Nate Burkes (6-0, 225).
Curry made first-team all-league and honorable mention all-district in Division III as he passed for about 1,000 yards and rushed for 800, and Burkes was second-team all-district.
Junior Aaron Donaldson (5-9, 175) is expected to take over as the No. 1 running back for 2013 graduate Joseph Good, who was honorable mention all-district.
Sophomore Asa Burke and freshman Abul Dialo also should see time at running back.
Junior wide receiver Andre Williams (5-10, 175), Mock and senior Nick Burke (6-2, 175), who could see time at both wide receiver and tight end, should be other key players in a spread offense that will use some pistol formations.
Sophomore Orpheus Twy-man (6-3, 220) will be on an offensive line that might have been the biggest question mark during the preseason. Shafiq McDowell, who was second-team all-district on the offensive line, was another key player who must be replaced from a small 2013 graduating class.
"We've just got to work a little harder and we'll get there," Curry said. "We went 5-5 last year and we actually started buying in as a team and took a step up. This year we're trying to make more progress."
Williams, junior Marvel Senh (5-11, 180) and sophomore Will Evans (5-11, 175) are expected to be on the defensive line.
Despite being just 5-5, 150, senior Natrell Cunningham is expected to be a key linebacker along with Burkes and Nick Burke.
Mock, Dialo, Asa Burke and sophomore Juwan Smith (5-8, 145) are in the defensive backfield. Burkes will be the kicker and Curry is the punter.
The Tigers competed in Division III, Region 10 each of the last three seasons but have moved to Division IV, Region 13 after the OHSAA's expansion to seven divisions.
East is the second-smallest City program behind Africentric, which is in Division VII.
The biggest reason for the Tigers' increase in victories might have been an offense that increased its scoring from 9.2 points per game in 2011 to 21.8 a year ago. They scored a season best during a 55-0 win over Centennial. The return of most of the offense has East hoping that trend continues.
"Our strongest suit is our athleticism in the skill positions," Carter said. "Our weakest part is our line."