The Mount Vernon High School football team is certain it's in good hands relying on junior running back J.D. Orr, whose 1,244 yards and 11 touchdowns last year led the Yellow Jackets to a 5-5 record.
Orr fumbled only once, but it was the turnovers from other positions, including 11 interceptions in a four-game span, that doomed Mount Vernon after a 5-1 start.
"You can't go through last year without thinking about turnovers," said third-year coach Anthony Naples, whose team finished fifth (3-4) in the OCC-Capital Division behind champion New Albany (7-0). "A lot of times, we tried to do too much and it cost us the Big Walnut game (a 27-14 loss). It cost us the Delaware game (a 21-14 loss the next week) and when those games happened, it pretty much ruined the rest of the year."
But in preparing for the season that begins Friday, Aug. 30, at home against Marion Harding, Naples and his coaching staff didn't overcompensate by emphasizing turnovers.
"If we did that, we figured our quarterbacks wouldn't take chances. We want them to take some chances," Naples said. "We haven't talked about them a ton yet, but we've talked about making good decisions and being smart in pressure situations."
Both quarterbacks are juniors -- Greg Dennis (6-foot, 150 pounds) and Ryan Fitzgerald (5-11, 184) -- and will work behind an offensive line that returns junior center Kyle Stump (5-10, 160), classmates Jeep Cochran (6-4, 230), Alec Curts (6-4, 236) and Chase Gallagher (6-0, 330), senior James Wright (5-10, 220) and sophomore tackle Jacob Tilton (6-0, 300).
Receivers include seniors Logan Rhea (6-0, 210) and Rain Wiggand (5-11, 180) and junior Luke Staten (5-7, 185).
"We run probably 60 percent of the time, but we also want to throw with our new QB coming in," Orr said of Fitzgerald, who formerly backed up Illinois recruit Chayce Crouch at Newark Catholic.
"(Fitzgerald) has a lot of speed and he also reads defenses very well. That's very nice to have."
The Jackets are replacing much of their front seven on defense, a problem exacerbated by senior linebacker Matt Lybarger missing the season because of elbow surgery. He injured his arm during a wrestling tournament in the offseason.
Senior linebacker Josh Edwards (5-11, 190) is a returning starter who will be joined by senior George Walker (5-8, 170) and junior Hunter Quellen (6-2, 190). Linemen include junior Cameron Bales (5-9, 270) at end and tackles Curts and Stump.
"They're young, but they're strong and they're fast," Rhea said.
Dennis, Rhea, Staten and Wiggand return at defensive back, as does senior Jerrod Heagren (5-6, 150).
Mount Vernon visits Sparta Highland on Sept. 6 and Mansfield Madison on Sept. 13 before beginning OCC-Capital play Sept. 20 at home against Franklin Heights.
Much like last year, the Jackets' schedule is back loaded. Their first two league games, against Franklin Heights and Worthington Kilbourne, are against teams that went 2-8 and 3-7, respectively, a year ago.
Mount Vernon's final two games are at Olentangy, which was 10-2 and made the Division I, Region 3 playoffs a year ago, and at home against New Albany, which was 11-3 and lost to Trotwood-Madison 33-32 in a Division II state semifinal.
New Albany entered the season with 93 players on its roster. Olentangy has 82 compared to Mount Vernon's 40.
"When something went bad last year, we didn't respond well," Rhea said. "The biggest thing about being a great team is battling through adversity and overcoming obstacles. That's what it was for us. If we had a turnover, we didn't move on to the next play and we were done. Hopefully we've learned from that."