After having two of the area's best passers in the last five years, Columbus West High School football coach Mike Flusche spent last season prepping a new arm for his offense that loves to spread the ball around.
It wasn't easy for Markell Wyche, who passed for 704 yards and four touchdowns. He threw 11 interceptions.
"We were breaking in a brand new quarterback and it showed," said Flusche, whose team opens the season Friday, Aug. 30, against visiting Brookhaven.
"Markell didn't start three or four games, but he's had a really good summer, and we did a bunch of seven-on-seven camps. He's a really good athlete and I think he's grown in confidence."
Wyche replaced Chris Rhodes, who led the Cowboys in 2011 to their best finish under Flusche at 7-3. Rhodes threw for 2,538 yards and 35 touchdowns after he passed for 2,512 yards and 33 touchdowns as a junior.
Rhodes' predecessor, Eric Stewart, passed for Central District records of 8,421 yards and 85 touchdowns in his career.
Last season, West finished 5-5 overall and 3-4 in the City League-South Division, fifth behind champion Marion-Franklin (7-0).
With eight returning starters on offense, Flusche expects more growth from his skill position players.
"I like our chances as long as we stay healthy," said Flusche, who is in his seventh season. "The nice thing is that we open up with Brookhaven this year, and it's a good barometer for us. They're a great program."
Wyche's top receiver a year ago is back in senior Charles Holland, who caught 30 passes for 406 yards and two touchdowns. Seniors Cody Williams and Trenton Miller and junior Dontell Butler return as the other targets.
At running back, sophomore Byron White will play a bigger role with the graduation of Quran Stokes, who rushed for 987 yards and 14 touchdowns on 188 carries. Junior Kevin Russell is back at fullback.
The offensive line will be anchored by returning starters Chris Horsley, a junior center, and Twain Davis, a junior left tackle. Senior Gerale Bennett and junior Rodney Johnson appear to have solidified starting roles.
West also was anticipating the return of Adrian Hatcher, a 6-foot-4, 285-pound lineman who also serves as the soccer team's goalie.
"He's got a Division I body," Flusche said. "He came out last year as a junior and practiced twice a week with us. He also was our kicker."
With a 40-man roster, Flusche expects to have more two-way players.
Davis, Johnson and senior end Kenny Hoover will play up front for a defense that features five returning starters.
White started at strong safety last season, and Holland is expected to start again at free safety.
Butler and Miller will start at cornerback.
What's missing is the strong linebacker group that was led by 2013 graduates Mike Covington and David Stockton. Covington led the team in tackles (117) and sacks (8) last season.
"We've got to find guys who can play in the middle," Flusche said. "Those were big roles last season. We're eager to see how everything went over the summer."