Offensive line to power Punchers
The biggest pieces necessary for creating the kind of running game the Mifflin High School football team hopes to develop appear to be in plentiful supply for coach Gregg Miller.
Although nearly all of the Punchers' key skill position players from last season were lost to graduation, Mifflin might have a bigger percentage of offensive linemen on its roster than any team in central Ohio.
In a program that has just more than 40 players, four gained starting experience last season on the line and 13 others could see action at one of the five positions.
Mifflin is hoping the building blocks are in place for another winning season after it went 7-3 overall and finished third in the City League-North Division at 5-2 behind Beechcroft (7-0) and Brook-haven (6-1).
The Punchers open Friday, Aug. 30, at Licking Heights, which was a Division II, Region 7 playoff qualifier a year ago.
"Our numbers aren't very good, but we've got competition everywhere," said coach Gregg Miller, who is 20-10 in three seasons with the Punchers after a 17-year run at Brookhaven that included seven playoff appearances and 10 City League titles. "I've got a lot of linemen returning. I've got four out of my five offensive linemen from last year returning and I don't know if all of them can make the starting lineup.
"Some of them got in the weight room, and we had a couple move-ins. I'm probably three-deep on the offensive line."
Junior Michael Gause (6-2, 228) is back for his third season as a starter up front, and seniors Carlos Luna (5-foot-11, 234 pounds) and Andre' McLemore (6-1, 205) also gained starting experience last season. Junior Kwame Peprah (6-0, 226) is among several other players looking for playing time.
That group will pave the way for a group of running backs that should feature juniors Maurice Chatman (5-7, 151) and Makiyn Tate (5-7, 140) and sophomore Donya Smith (5-9, 160). Derrick Pope, a 2013 graduate, rushed for 1,456 yards and 20 touchdowns while making first-team all-district in Division II.
Seniors Jakob Green (5-7, 160) and Aundreaus Winton (6-0, 170) and juniors Stanley Jackson (6-3, 180) and Montrese Frazier (5-11, 175) are at wide receiver. Jackson is a transfer from Hartley.
Senior Markaelon Duffy is back at tight end. Senior Jamie Speed (6-2, 180) and junior Lamont Bowman (5-11, 185) are others at the position.
The biggest question mark during the preseason might have been who would replace 2013 graduate Javonte Bing at quarterback. Bing was honorable mention all-district after passing for more than 1,300 yards a year ago.
Senior Marsaan Banks (6-0, 170) and sophomore Mike Bell, a transfer from Worthington Kilbourne, were the top candidates.
"We'll run a lot of different formations with some one-back and some two-back," Miller said. "I think our run-to-pass ratio will be pretty even."
Because of Mifflin's low numbers, many of the offensive linemen also will play key roles on defense.
Luna is a returning starter on the defensive line, with Gause and senior Christian Stevens (5-6, 186) also likely to see action.
Duffy could see time on the line or at linebacker. Sophomore Melik Scott (5-9, 210) earned starting experience last season at the position, and senior Taz Littlefield (5-6, 194), Bowman and Chatman are others at linebacker.
Green is beginning his fourth season as a starter in the secondary, and Smith also should see time in the backfield.
Another player Mifflin must replace on both sides of the ball is 2013 graduate Kamaron Green, who was first-team all-district and third-team all-state at wide receiver and also started at cornerback.
Last season, the Punchers were 5-1 before losing to Beechcroft 34-19. They closed the regular season with a 20-13 loss to Brookhaven and ended up 11th in Region 7.
Mifflin, Centennial, Beechcroft and Brookhaven from the City-North all will compete this fall in Division III, Region 9 after the OHSAA's expansion to seven divisions.
"The competition we have on the offensive and defensive lines is tremendous," Jakob Green said. "One thing coach Miller has installed is how to be here as a team. We can't be in here to make big plays if we're not all in."