Coach Jack Johnson said the Harvest Prep football team has some extra motivation now that the Warriors have finished serving a two-year ban on postseason play for violating OHSAA regulations and bylaws.
"(The playoffs) really hype up the team and all of the captains," said Johnson, whose squad will open Friday, Aug. 30, at Bexley. "We'll go harder now. We have the ability to go to the playoffs, so we're really determined."
To reach that goal of making the playoffs, the Warriors must replace a trio of key players -- Ethan Brown (Central Missouri), Josiah Stacy (Air Force Academy) and Zach Yousey (Toledo) -- who are all competing at the collegiate level.
"We've got some of those holes filled," Johnson said. "Right now we're looking pretty strong."
Senior R.J. Johnson will start at quarterback for the Warriors, but he will also see time at receiver and free safety. Akron is among the Mid-American Conference schools recruiting Johnson as a receiver.
Establishing a ground game and utilizing their team speed will be keys for the Warriors, who finished 6-4 a year ago.
Seniors Tyler Pannell (running back/defensive back) and Gideon Woodson-Levey (running back/middle linebacker) will be the main players in the backfield. Pannell rushed for 579 yards and five touchdowns on 60 carries last season. Woodson-Levey, who gained 281 yards and scored sevent touchdowns on 46 carries, is being looked at by several Division I schools, including Bowling Green and Air Force.
Junior Terrence Walton (running back/outside linebacker) also will be in the backfield at times.
The receiving corps will include a pair of newcomers in seniors Michael Lang and Sheridyn Wilkins, who are basketball players out for football for the first time. Lang also will line up at defensive end and Wilkins will compete with junior Will Hopkins for playing time at outside linebacker.
Sophomore Curtis Jones should contribute at wide receiver and defensive back, and sophomore Melvin Thomas will replace Brown at tight end.
Other key players include seniors Robert King and juniors Hunter Pharis and James Johnson. King will play offensive tackle and handle the kicking and punting, Pharis will play offensive guard and linebacker and Johnson will play center and defensive line. Pharis is being looked at by several schools, including teams from the Ivy League.
"We just want to be able to play at our peak and who we are," Johnson said. "We don't want to play outside of ourselves. Our biggest strength is our speed."
Harvest Prep will compete in a revamped MSL-Cardinal Division that lost Licking Heights, Liberty Union, West Jefferson and Grandview while adding Grove City Christian and Fairfield Christian.
A year ago, Harvest Prep finished fourth at 4-3 behind Licking Licking Heights (7-0) Liberty Union (6-1) and West Jefferson (5-2), and ahead of Grandview (3-4) Fisher Catholic (2-5) Berne Union (1-6) and Millersport (0-10, 0-7). The Warriors were 3-0 against the teams that remained in the division -- Berne Union, Fisher Catholic and Millersport.
In its bid to reach the postseason, Harvest Prep will be in Division VII Region 25 after the OHSAA expanded the playoffs to seven divisions last spring. "We just want to win," Johnson said. "If it's by one point or 20 points, I don't care. We just need to win."