Coach Brian White and the Hilliard Davidson High School football program quickly turned their focus to the 2013 season after losing to Pickerington North 21-0 in a Division I regional final last season.
White and his players and coaches realize it takes a year-round commitment to maintain the high expectations the Wildcats have established.
"It started last December," said White, who led Davidson to Division I state titles in 2006 and 2009. "The commitment that our kids made to be in the weight room starting last Dec. 20 and over Christmas break. And then it continues when we get back from Christmas, the commitment that our kids make to be there at 5:45 in the morning. I thought we had a really good offseason.
"Most of our kids were committed and hopefully because of their commitment and the character that they showed, they'll reap the rewards from it."
White will gauge his team's progress when it opens at home on Friday, Aug. 30, against Grove City, which lost 26-14 to the Wildcats a year ago.
Davidson will again rely on a run-oriented option attack, which should be directed by senior quarterback Nick Iske (6-foot-0, 195 pounds). Iske missed the final nine games last season after tearing tendons in his left ankle in week five against Central Crossing.
"We're really tight," Iske said. "We have a lot of experience coming back. We have to make sure we're doing everything right and making everything perfect."
Senior fullback D.D. Clark (5-11, 186) returns after rushing for 853 yards and five touchdowns on 149 carries. He was second-team all-OCC-Central Division.
"D.D. had a great year for us last year and he looks even better so far this year," White said. "I'm really impressed with the strides and improvement he has made in the offseason."
Junior Markus Bailey (6-2, 212) also should also see time in the backfield, and senior Phillipie Motley (5-11, 173) -- who has verbally committed to the University of Pittsburgh -- will play slotback after earning second-team all-league honors.
Seniors Brett Annis (5-11, 202) and Alex Backenstoe (6-1, 235) and junior Nick Potts (6-5, 204) will play tight end, a key blocking position in the team's option attack.
Wide receivers are seniors Joe Bernard (6-3, 185) and Erich Kuntzman (6-0, 176).
Senior Jared Johns (6-0, 218) returns at center, where he was first-team all-district and all-league.
Other returnees up front are seniors Max Paazig (6-1, 222), at tackle and John Rezabek (5-11, 202) at guard. Paazig was special mention all-league.
Other key linemen should be seniors Cameron Elliott (5-10, 221) and Alexis Pagan-Montero (5-9, 240) and sophomore Kyle Bessen (6-0, 267).
Seniors Jack Johns (5-8, 145) and Matt Martin (6-1, 170), and sophomore Robert Lefevre (5-10, 164) are contending for kicking and punting duties.
Davidson will feature the same 50 base defense as years past, with Backenstoe in the crucial Leo linebacker position. He'll line up across from the tight end and will be counted on to rush the quarterback and stop the run."
"This team will go as far as the seniors will carry it," said Backenstoe, who was first-team all-league and second-team all-district. "If we keep working hard, it will all pay off."
Senior lineman Clay Barnett (5-11, 209) also returns, and junior Caleb Boyd (5-11, 187) will be at end and sophomore Kyle Siders (5-10, 292) will play nose guard. Freshman Cameron Russell (6-2, 211) is another lineman.
Senior Travis Brown (6-2, 206) and Bailey are back at linebacker, where junior Ben Brooks (5-9, 185) also will see action. Brown was second-team all-league.
Returning players in the secondary include seniors Parker Foard (5-10, 176) and Nick Stull (6-2, 176) at safety, and Bernard and Motley at cornerback.
Last season, Stull was second-team all-league and Foard was special mention all-league.
"I don't know how many games we'll win this year, but the group of kids we have this year is a really fun group of kids," White said. "You can't say that every year. Some years there can be some frustrating kids. There's just a lot of fun kids in our program right now."
The Wildcats lost 14 players to graduation, including running back E.J. Jennings, who was first-team all-district and shared OCC-Central Player of the Year honors with Coffman defensive lineman Miles McCollum. Jennings ran for 1,597 and 24 touchdowns.
Davidson begins pursuit of a fourth consecutive and 14th overall league title when it opens OCC-Central Division play at home against Dublin Coffman on Sept. 20. Last season, Davidson and Coffman tied for first in the league at 6-1.
Davidson split two games with Coffman, losing to the Shamrocks 33-10 in the regular season before avenging the loss with a 17-14 win in the first round of the playoffs.
White believes his team can contend again for a league title, with Coffman and Upper Arlington also in the mix.
Following divisional realignment last spring by the OHSAA, Davidson will play in Division I, Region 2, which will include Coffman, Hilliard Darby, Pickerington North, UA and Westerville South. Division I now consists of schools with 608 or more boys.
The traditional postseason format in which the top eight teams in each region qualify for the playoffs will remain in Divisions II through VII. Division I will be divided into Northern and Southern regions, however, with 16 teams making the playoffs in each region.
Davidson will be seeking its sixth consecutive playoff berth and 10th in the last 11 seasons.
"Our goal every year is just to have our kids grow and reach their potential," White said.