In his first season at quarterback for the Hilliard Bradley High School football team, Tommy Horn found that playing varsity was filled with bumps and bruises.
After learning the ropes last fall, the 6-foot, 180-pound senior is looking to help the Jaguars rebound from going 4-6 overall and 1-6 in the OCC-Cardinal Division to finish seventh behind champion Hilliard Darby (7-0).
"Last year was my first experience at the varsity level and I found out how difficult it can be," said Horn, who was honorable mention all-district in Division I and second-team all-league. "You can't be a one-man show out there. You have to rely on the guys next to you to make everything work."
Horn was 65-for-115 passing for 894 yards with seven touchdowns and four interceptions, and he led the team in rushing with 677 yards and five touchdowns on 136 carries.
"Tommy has come back and hasn't missed a beat," said coach Mike LoParo, who is in his third season. "He understands what we are trying to do offensively and he's been a great leader for us. He has the desire to put the team on his shoulders and carry it."
Horn will be taking snaps from senior center Skylar Hartley (6-2, 305), who has verbally committed to the University at Buffalo.
"We don't have many crazy standout players, so we have to play as a team," Hartley said. "We're good when we play as a unit. Our potential is through the roof. If we put things together, we could be unstoppable."
That is LoParo's hope for his multiple-set offense, which returns 10 starters. Aside from Hartley and Horn, the Jaguars return senior Zac Davis (6-3, 230) at left tackle, and seniors Josias Cruceta (6-3, 270) and Austin Miller (6-3, 255) both started at right tackle. Senior Ryan Beveridge (6-1, 270) is back at right guard.
Senior T.J. Martin (6-0, 215) is back at running back after rushing for 505 yards and nine touchdowns on 99 carries. Also returning are senior tight end Jake Stratton (6-3, 220) and senior wide receivers Zack Popovec (6-3, 200; 27 catches, 299 yards, 3 touchdowns) and Ryan Reffitt (6-5, 210; 20 catches, 266 yards, 1 touchdown).
Senior Matt Johnson (6-0, 185) is new to the offense at running back and wide receiver, and senior Nathan Chapman (6-2, 245) also will see time at right guard after missing last season with an injured knee.
"We have to work hard and keep driving through the whistle," LoParo said. "We have to play every play with pride and drive through people instead of to people. We can't accept anything less.
"If one kid makes a mistake, the whole play blows up. That's why it's important that we work together and that we are accountable to each other. It's 11 guys working together as a family ... as a team."
The Jaguars have seven starters back on defense, including Reffitt at free safety, senior Daniel Tepe at cornerback and senior Walker Hamilton at strong safety. Senior Cameron Hart, Popovec and senior Jacob Pugh return at linebacker, and Hartley started on the defensive line.
Also playing up front on defense are Beveridge, Miller, Stratton and junior Kyler Mottola. Junior Dalton Hatfield and senior Tyler Harris (6-2, 225), a move-in from Delaware, will play linebacker.
"I like the fact that we have a lot of experience back, but we have to be able to do something with it," LoParo said. "The kids know what Friday nights look like, and that's great. You can't simulate that experience in practice or in a scrimmage."
The Jaguars open Friday, Aug. 30, at Marysville and then play a Thursday night game at home against Reynoldsburg on Sept. 5.
Their OCC-Cardinal schedule includes an Oct. 11 home game against league newcomer Canal Winchester, as Worthington Kilbourne has moved to the OCC-Capital.
Also, Bradley has moved from Division I, Region 3 to Division II, Region 5 in the new seven-division playoff format implemented by the OHSAA.
"We have been taking a lot of pride in what we have been doing in the preseason because this is our last year of high school football," Hartley said. "That means a lot and we want to get as much out of this as we can."