With several returning starters, including senior quarterback Cameron Meece, Grove City High School football coach Matt Jordan believes the Dawgs can contend with the top teams in the OCC-Ohio Division.
The Dawgs began last season 1-3, but they went 4-2 over their final six games to finish 5-5 overall and 4-3 in the league.
"We expect to be better than that this year," Jordan said. "You bring back eight guys on defense and seven guys on offense, you expect that to be the case."
Grove City closed last season with a 13-10 win over Pickerington North, forcing a tie between the Panthers and Pickerington Central for the league title at 6-1.
North reached a Division I state semifinal before losing to eventual champion Cincinnati Moeller 26-21.
Jordan and his players are using the win over North as motivation.
"But more importantly, you use it as a stamp to prove to your players and everybody that you can play with anybody on the schedule," Jordan said.
The Dawgs open Friday, Aug. 30, at perennial area power Hilliard Davidson. Last season, the Wildcats beat Grove City 26-14 in the opener but lost to North 21-0 in a regional final.
The 5-foot-11, 195-pound Meece again will direct the team's triple-option offense. Last season, he rushed for a team-high 1,102 yards and 16 touchdowns on 160 carries and completed 46 of 121 passes for 662 yards with five touchdowns and three interceptions.
He was first-team all-league and honorable mention all-district in Division I.
"I want to throw a little more," Meece said. "I know I ran a lot last year, but I want to distribute the ball a lot more and get my teammates involved and help us win."
Seniors Corey Williams (5-10, 210) and Jake Norbut (6-0, 200) will look to lead the running game. Williams rushed for 479 yards and two touchdowns on 84 carries last season, while Norbut rushed for 198 yards and three touchdowns on 44 carries.
Seniors Ike Pack (5-11, 195) and Jakub Sayers (5-11, 220) and junior Nate Boll (5-10, 160) also will see time at running back.
Jordan said senior Paul Saunders (6-1, 170) has shown potential at wide receiver. Other receivers are senior Coray Napier (6-2, 195) and sophomore Nathan Hawk (6-1, 165).
Senior Austin Burgett (6-3, 210) and sophomore Brandon Chapman (6-5, 225) are tight ends.
Jordan said there are several candidates competing for playing time on the offensive line, including juniors Cole Smoot (5-10, 210) and Austin Treneff (6-2, 305), who are vying to start at center.
Seniors Matt Brown (6-4, 280) and Zach Kennedy (6-3, 260) and junior Jacob Mined (6-1, 220) are tackles, and seniors Joe Johnson (5-10, 285), Matt McKibben (5-10, 245) and Ryan Uhrin (5-10, 285) and junior Brandon Skeen (6-5, 290) are guards.
"It's an open battle up front trying to figure out who the top five guys will be," Jordan said.
Junior Drew Capehart (6-1, 180) and sophomore Jonah Monhemius (5-11, 155) are contending for kicking duties in place of 2013 graduate Drew Nankivell, who was first-team all-league and honorable mention all-district last season.
Senior Tyler Cowles (6-0, 195) and junior Kyle Kimball (6-1, 160) are punters.
The Dawgs again will utilize a base 50 defense that should be led by senior lineman Ryan Serafini (5-11, 225), a returning starter who had 29 tackles and two sacks and was second-team all-league last season.
Other linemen are McKibben, Smoot, seniors Justin Belmonte (5-9, 215), Chandler Evanichko (6-2, 245) and William Zentz (6-3, 220), juniors Cooper Green (6-0, 245) and Ryan Walsh (6-0, 235) and sophomore Matt Bowers (6-1, 220).
Juniors Jake Crosby (6-2, 185) and Zach Sarver (6-0, 185) will be at linebacker with Burgett and Norbut.
Junior cornerback Peyton Bowyer (6-0, 180) had 43 tackles and a team-high three interceptions last season.
He was honorable mention all-league.
Other defensive backs are Cowles and seniors Ben Myers (5-10, 165) and Chandler Thompson (5-10, 180).
"We have a lot of experience on the defensive side and we have a lot of guys returning on offense, so that will play a big role," said Myers, who had 41.5 tackles last season. "We'll have a lot more confidence than last year. A big win week 10 (against North) showed what we can do."
Following the addition of a seventh playoff division, Grove City has moved from Division I, Region 3 to Division I, Region 2. Division I now consists of schools with 608 or more boys.
Jordan believes Central is the team to beat in the OCC-Ohio, with North, Reynoldsburg and Gahanna also in contention.
"Every week we know we have to be on our 'A' game," Jordan said. "As a coaching staff, you have to definitely be prepared and do everything you can, which you would anyhow for who you play, but you really have to be on your toes in this league."