The Dublin Jerome High School football team is looking to re-establish a winning tradition in its 10th season.
The Celtics are coming off consecutive losing seasons for the first time in program history, finishing 4-6 the past two years.
Last season, Jerome went 3-4 in the OCC-Cardinal Division, fifth behind Hilliard Darby (7-0), Dublin Scioto (6-1), Westerville South (5-2) and Westerville Central (4-3).
With the OHSAA adding a seventh playoff division, Jerome has moved from Division I, Region 3 to Division II, Region 5.
"When I looked at the teams that are in our region, if we can do well in our league, we'll have a shot of getting (into the playoffs) and once we get in, we have a shot of playing well," coach Mark Hundley said.
The traditional postseason format in which the top eight teams in each region qualify for the playoffs remains in place in Divisions II through VII. Division I now is divided into two regions, with 16 teams from each making the playoffs.
Jerome opens Friday, Aug. 30, at Dublin Coffman. Last season, the Celtics lost to the Shamrocks 48-6 in the teams' first meeting.
Returning senior Jake King (6-foot, 175 pounds) has been competing for the starting quarterback job with junior Alex Cline (6-2, 165) and sophomore Zack Hazlett (5-11, 170).
Last season, King completed 72 of 146 passes for 793 yards with three touchdowns and six interceptions.
Senior running backs Ian Beith (6-2, 205), Justin Stroup (6-0, 180) and Steve Kidwell (6-0, 190) are looking to help fill the void left by the graduation of Donovan Wilson, a freshman running back at Georgia Tech.
Last season, Wilson rushed for a program-record 2,068 yards on 383 carries and scored 25 touchdowns. He ran for a program-record 425 yards in a 21-20, overtime loss to Westerville South.
Wilson also shared OCC-Cardinal Player of the Year honors with Darby's Caleb Day and Scioto's Tim Shadoan and was named first-team all-district. A four-year starter, he finished his career with 4,796 yards rushing and 58 touchdowns, both program records.
"There's life after Donovan," Hundley said. "The thing that we've seen throughout this offseason is it's now no longer are they looking for somebody to step up, they're looking for each other to step up and become more of a team."
Seniors Connor Kerns (6-1, 185) and Tommy Mazurek (6-3, 225) and junior Nate Szekely (6-3, 200) are ends in the double-wing offense.
Senior Kyle Eudell (5-8, 255) and junior Emilo Paesano (6-0, 280) are competing for the starting center position. Senior Bryan Slius (6-0, 250) and junior Court Zeppernick (6-1, 240) will play tackle, and senior Dillon Scott (5-10, 165) and junior Toran George (6-2, 275) will be at guard.
Senior Julian Manos (6-2, 180) is the kicker and senior Tommy Keller (6-1, 185) will punt.
Senior Nate Fairand (5-8, 255), who was second-team all-league and special mention all-district last season, will play tackle in the team's 4-4 base defense.
"Our offense looks great, our defense looks great," Fairand said. "We only have a couple things to work on, but besides that, we look tremendous."
Also back is senior linebacker Louis Torchio (5-10, 205), who was second-team all-league.
"We lost a bunch of seniors, so hopefully some of the younger guys can step up and just make something happen," Torchio said.
Other linemen are seniors Matthew McCarthy (6-0, 210) and Brian Miller (5-11, 170), and other linebackers are seniors James Hanson (6-0, 215) and Drew Izzo (6-1, 190) and junior Austin Hall (5-11, 205).
Hanson was second-team all-league last season.
The secondary should feature seniors Mikey Bano (5-10, 165), Naman Chamoli (5-9, 175), Erik Harlock (5-10, 175), Juan Jennings (5-7, 160) and Josh Hundley (6-0, 160), junior Garrett Smith (5-9, 160) and sophomore Colson Poach (6-1, 195). Hundley is the coach's son.
Jerome plays in a league loaded with playoff contenders. Last year in Division I, Region 3, Darby, Scioto and Westerville South were among the eight teams that made the playoffs, while Westerville Central was one spot from a postseason berth.
"Our No. 1 goal is try to do the best we can and win the league," coach Hundley said. "Somebody has to knock Westerville South out of there. Darby is by far a tough, tough football team."