After losing an all-state quarterback, a University of Michigan recruit and a two-time all-state lineman to graduation, the Marion-Franklin High School football team might have the appearance of a program in rebuilding mode.
All the Red Devils intend to do is keep a pair of streaks alive: Nine consecutive City League-South Division championships and an equal number of playoff appearances.
"Every year we've lost some guys who've gone to big-time (college) programs across the country, but we've also had a pretty good run at replacing that talent that we lost," said coach Brian Haffele, who begins his 10th season Friday, Aug. 30, at Upper Arlington. "I tell our kids we have a program and it's all about longevity. Somebody else has got to step up and make the plays."
In fact, Marion-Franklin has lost just two league games under Haffele.
Last year's team reached a Division II regional final, where it lost to New Albany 32-30 to finish 11-2 overall. In 2011 and 2009, the Red Devils reached a state semifinal. This year, with a seventh playoff division added, they will compete in Division III.
In the City-South last year, the Red Devils went 7-0 to finish a game ahead of Walnut Ridge (6-1), which they beat 7-6.
With no returning starters on defense a year ago, Haffele relied on an experienced offense.
It's just the opposite this year, as eight starters return on defense compared to four on offense.
Lost to graduation was three-year starting quarterback and 2011 first-team all-state selection Corry Benson, who completed 109 of 188 passes for 1,618 yards and 16 touchdowns last season. He also rushed for 812 yards and 14 touchdowns. His top receiver, Jaron Dukes (36 catches, 519 yards, 9 TDs), now is at Michigan.
Receiver Joe Alverson (33 catches, 449 yards, 3 TDs) and linemen Damon Dillard and Shevone Hairston also must be replaced. Dillard was first-team all-state the past two seasons.
Three of the four returning offensive starters play up front in seniors Martesse Patterson (6-foot-5, 295 pounds), Devante Collins (6-1, 330) and Ricky Jackson (6-3, 320). Senior Landon Yeartie is back at slot receiver.
Patterson has more than two dozen Division I offers and Collins can bench press 440 pounds, Haffele said.
At quarterback, junior Justin Tyler appears to have won the job, although coaches also have been looking at senior Cameron Thompson in preseason camp.
Haffele has a stable of running backs in seniors Julius Monroe, Willie Barnes and Omar Alfred, junior A.J. Tarvin and sophomore Darien Leeper.
"We want to keep fresh legs in the backfield," Haffele said. "Corry was our top rusher last season, but Justin and Cameron aren't as thick as Corry so we're not going to run the ball with these guys. We're a 60-40 run-to-pass team. We're not going to change that, but our running backs are going to carry the load."
Seniors Shannon Royster and Cedric Williams and junior Michael Winfrey will see time at receiver.
On defense, the Red Devils have experience throughout with junior Shemar Moss, senior Austin Dent and Collins up front.
Tarvin and juniors Thomas James and David Wellbourn will anchor the linebacker spots. In the secondary, Monroe, junior Michael Champion and senior Jimmy Lumpkin will play safety. Alfred and senior Cameron McCuen will start at cornerback.
"This is a group that works hard and they're all really close friends," Haffele said. "Our first five games are a bear and we're going to need our defense to step up."