The Delaware Hayes High School football team has the ingredients for a successful season.
The things the Pacers don't possess -- a winning tradition and the confidence to execute in close games -- are qualities that third-year coach Zebb Schroeder is trying to build.
"We have a track record of not being disciplined enough to close the deal against good teams," Schroeder said. "That is a weakness from the past that we hope to overcome after a great offseason and preseason camp that focused on attention to details."
Delaware returns 25 letterwinners, including nine starters on offense and 10 on defense, as it looks to improve after going 3-7 for the third consecutive year.
"We're excited about the season," said Schroeder, who has 24 seniors on the roster. "We have experience, strength, size and speed. We have competition at most positions, as well as a hunger to be great. We have leadership by example from the senior class."
Senior Jante' Wright had 50 catches and scored nine touchdowns last season to earn Division I second-team all-district and second-team all-OCC-Capital Division honors. He is moving to quarterback to replace graduate Alex Rafeld, who was 127-for-236 passing for 1,758 yards with 13 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. Rafeld was honorable mention all-district and first-team all-league.
Wright also will play cornerback and had five interceptions a year ago.
Seniors Caleb Howell (WR/FS), Nick Shaver (WR/S) and Shawn Johnson (C/MLB) are expected to be among several two-way starters. Howell had 42 receptions last season and was honorable mention all-district and second-team all-league, while Johnson was honorable mention all-league.
"Caleb Howell is an explosive player with outstanding speed. His (40-yard time) is 4.5 (seconds). Defensively, I'm excited to see him roam center field with his athleticism and speed."
Also expected to see time at receiver in an offense that features multiple sets are seniors Zach Glascox and Jamie Lahman and junior Jake Brown. Seniors Michael Sweeney and James Wegmiller will share time at tight end.
Seniors Theoun Sorn and Anthony Hinton are the top running backs, with juniors Cody Wooten and Ernest Bonsu and sophomore Ethan Tucky (6-foot-2, 215) at fullback.
"Anthony Hinton is entering his first full season of varsity," Schroeder said. "He is 190 pounds of speed and power. Theon Sorn brings rushing and receiving experience back. Cody Wooten is a natural running back and big at 6-2, 205."
Expected to join Johnson (5-10, 200) on an all-senior offensive line are Andrew Sierawski (6-1, 220) and Gaige Linville (6-2, 225) at tackle and Collin Wittig (6-4, 280) and Reece Kotaka (5-11, 235) or Jackson Boger (6-1, 205) at guard. Junior Austen Kimbro (6-1, 260) could spell Johnson at center. Wittig was honorable mention all-district and second-team all-league.
"Collin Wittig has several Division II offers and could possibly end up as an offensive lineman in the MAC," Schroeder said. "He is a very, very good lineman and has worked extremely hard in the offseason to improve his craft."
Improvement on defense will be a key as the Pacers seek to improve on last season's 2-5 record in the OCC-Capital.
Sorn and Sierawski could be two-way players, as Sorn is competing with senior Connor Ulmer at one cornerback, with Wright expected to start ahead of junior Brandon McConaha at the other corner. Howell and Shaver complete the secondary at safety.
Sierawski or senior Juan Hernandez (5-10, 165) should start at one defensive end, with Wegmiller on the other side. Juniors Lamar Rhymes (6-3, 265) and Shane Sand (6-3, 230) are expected to start at tackles in the 4-4 defense, with Linville and Wittig also in the mix.
Tucky will be an outside linebacker. Bonsu and Hinton are vying at weak-side linebacker, with junior Josh Daughenbaugh (6-2, 180) on the strong side. Johnson will be the middle linebacker .
"Tucky had nearly 60 tackles in five games as a freshman," Schroeder said. "He won the 100 meters in the Delaware County track meet last spring. He could be one of the top sophomores in central Ohio. Rhymes has a rare combination of size, speed and strength that makes him a force on the line. He could be a major Division I college recruit next year.
"Wegmiller brings great length to the defensive line and is a good pass rusher. Johnson is a hard-nosed kid and an excellent player, and Daughenbaugh is a great competitor and extremely smart. He will be a key to our defense at Sam linebacker."
Three of the Pacers' first four games are at home, including the opener Friday, Aug. 30, against Buckeye Valley and the league opener Sept. 20 against Worthington Kilbourne, which has replaced Watkins Memorial in the OCC-Capital.
"The keys will be staying healthy, protecting the ball, playing outstanding defense and establishing what it takes to win a league championship -- good practice habits, razor-sharp concentration on Friday nights and fulfilling off-field (classroom) commitments," Schroeder said.
"Our goals are to be in position to play for a league title at the end of October and to flat-out be better, smarter players, technically sound and extremely disciplined. We've had success in creating a culture of positive leadership and we've worked hard at gaining speed and strength."