Before the Franklin Heights football team can worry about the opener Friday, Aug. 30, at Westerville North, coach Mike Owens insisted that the players on his squad must worry about themselves first.
"It's a matter of practicing with a purpose," said Owens, who is entering his second season. "We have to look to get better, no matter what, and never feel satisfied. We want to win every game."
After opening with a pair of victories a year ago against Westerville North (21-14) and Briggs (26-7), the Falcons lost their final eight games while being outscored 347-92.
Their closest loss during that stretch was 35-21 to Mount Vernon in the OCC-Capital Division opener.
The schedule will be challenging again, as six of this season's opponents won at least five games a year ago.
According to Owens, who previously coached at Westerville North, this year's mission is simple: become a better team than last season.
"Our kids need to understand the game and how their hustle will translate onto the field," Owens said, "This sport requires a six day-a-week commitment."
With only 26 players on the varsity roster, including nine seniors, the biggest challenges facing the Falcons will be a lack of depth and the need to avoid injuries, according to Owens.
A number of players will see action on both sides of the ball including junior Ray Spangler, who is competing with senior Austin Earle for the starting job at quarterback and also will play inside linebacker and handle the punting duties. Senior Matt German will be at tailback and outside linebacker and strong safety.
Junior Mitch Kittinger will share time at tailback with German and play free safety, while junior Alonzo Longshoure is expected to play offensive guard and inside linebacker.
Senior Baylee Kibbey will be at center and defensive end, Sophomore Seth Dawkins will play wide receiver and cornerback and junior Justin Harris will play fullback and defensive end.
The Falcons have a new offensive scheme, switching from a more traditional "under center" attack to a spread offense. Owens said the change was made to accommodate the abilities of his players, and he has been pleased with the progress the offense has shown in learning the new system.
"We have a lot of kids who can play very well in space," Owens said. "(The coaches) are trying to teach them as much football as possible while stressing the fundamentals of the game."
Joining Kibbey and Longshoure on the offensive line will be CLASS Austin Compton at guard and junior David Haynes and senior T.J Jenkins at tackle.
The other wide receiver along with Hawkins should be junior Day Summerall, and senior Josh Puccetti -- a member of the soccer team -- will be the place-kicker.
On defense, Owens is implementing a shade 50 formation, which is a variation of a 4-4 scheme.
He said the Falcons hope to force the ball to go sideline to sideline, preventing big plays up the middle.
A key factor will be the play at defensive end fromy Harris, who is one of the Falcons' leaders on defense, according to Owens.
"When he gets fired up, the whole team gets fired up," Owens said.
Joining Harris and Kibbey on the defensive line will be sophomore Davon Moore and sophomore Joey Slark at tackle, with junior Merlin Abreu rounding out the secondary at cornerback.