The Lancaster High School football team has plenty of starting spots up for grabs, and coach Rob Carpenter is hoping that competition will bring out the best in his players and reveal some newcomers who can contribute on Friday nights.
"Our biggest problem the last couple of years has been depth, but I think that affects a lot of programs in central Ohio," said Carpenter, whose team opens against Logan on Friday, Aug. 30, at home.
"It takes a lot of work to come out here and play high school football."
With so many spots unsettled, Carpenter has choices at each position as he enters his 16th season.
Injuries -- especially at quarterback -- have been an issue in recent seasons, including a year ago when the Golden Gales finished 3-7 overall and 2-5 in the OCC-Ohio Division.
Junior Alex Butsko is the front-runner to start under center after filling in because of injuries at that position the past two seasons, and senior Collin Young, who transferred from Fairfield Christian Academy, also will compete for playing time.
"As a team, we've got to all come together," said Butsko, who earned playing time a year ago after 2013 graduate Riley Theiss was sidelined. "We've got really good team chemistry this year."
Lancaster does have depth in the backfield, with seniors Jared Thompson and Isaiah Dexter at tailback and juniors Jerry King, Harrison Taylor and Blake Patterson also competing for spots.
The wide receivers will be led by seniors Jake Ferris, Riley Hamilton, Clay Hoey and junior Matt Young, and seniors Alex LaVeck, Matt Moore, Kawai Moku and Phelan Shaw are competing at tight end.
The offensive line will be anchored by senior right guard Kyle Trout (6-foot-6, 305), who has committed to play at Ohio State, but the other four spots have not been decided.
In the mix are seniors Austin Alexander, Jacques Moyer and Jeremy Thrush and juniors Billy Arnold, Christian Herold, Mitch Roseberry, Kyler Messner and Jacob Crosten.
On defense, Trout will be at tackle along with junior Bryan Vaughn, and Herold and Crosten also should see action. At defensive end will be junior Zac McNeal, Shaw and Moku (64 tackles, 19 for loss and 4.5 sacks).
Linebackers will include senior Doug Keels, junior Josh Cook, sophomore Eric Deluse, Dexter (76 tackles, 4 for loss, 1 forced fumble), Moore and Patterson.
In the defensive backfield, senior Beau Stewart, juniors Nick Hutton and Michael Pompeo and sophomore Drew Smith are among the candidates along with Butsko, King and Taylor.
"With Alex Butsko taking over as a freshman in midseason and then last year as a sophomore again in midseason, we're banking on Butsko," Carpenter said.
Lancaster will open league play with back-to-back games against last season's conference co-champions, Pickerington Central and Pickerington North.
The Golden Gales face the Tigers on Sept. 20 at home and travel to face the Panthers on Sept. 27.
The Golden Gales last qualified for the postseason in 2009 after making five consecutive appearances from 2003-2007, and this year's team is looking to end that streak.
After the OHSAA added a seventh division to the playoffs last spring, Lancaster will compete in Division I, Region 2.
Division I now consists of schools with 608 or more boys, and it will be divided into Northern and Southern regions with 16 teams making the playoffs in each region. The traditional postseason format in which the top eight teams in each region qualify for the playoffs will remain in Divisions II through VII.
"We definitely want that winning record," Butsko said. "Fundamentally on offense and defense we want to make a statement."