The Newark Catholic High School football team is coming off a season in which it made "special memories" by reaching the Division VI state final.
But the result of that game, a 28-21 loss to Maria Stein Marion Local, is motivating this year's Green Wave to capture the program's ninth state championship.
Coach Bill Franks, who guided Newark Catholic to its last state title in 2007, would like to have another shot at a championship this season. Last year was the Green Wave's first state title game appearance since that last championship, and it ended up being the program's sixth state runner-up finish.
"You can't describe (a playoff run to reach the state final) until the community has experienced it. So when your parents and your athletes get to go through that, there are just special memories and it helps as a motivator to make it a goal to get back," Franks said. "No question our goals are win each week and grow each week and we always want to be playing week 15, no question."
Quarterback Chayce Crouch, an Illinois recruit, said the team is trying to take it a game at a time.
The Green Wave opens Friday, Aug. 30, at Ready.
"Obviously this team has high expectations because of the run we made last year, but right now we are taking it day by day," Crouch said. "I absolutely believe that anything is possible with this ballclub.
"The other goals I believe will fall into place if we push each other every day and keep growing together as a team and developing that chemistry it takes to get to that level."
Newark Catholic has lost 10 players from a year ago to graduation, including Kevin Bourne, a safety and running back who was the state defensive Player of the Year in Division VI last season and now is playing at Kent State.
The clear leader on offense is the 6-foot-4, 221-pound Crouch, who passed for 2,077 yards and 18 touchdowns and ran for 11 scores a year ago. He also was first-team all-state as a punter.
Crouch directs an offense that features the I-formation and the spread. Anthony Wing will be at running back, while Aaron Jurden, Hunter Nance and Luke Ceneviva lead the way at receiver.
Senior Brenden Jurden (6-2, 260), a third-team all-state and first-team all-district selection, returns to anchor the offensive line, which also includes Evan Hartman, Joe Davis, Cameron DeBevoise and Trent Paul.
Senior safety Mike Lohr (5-8, 157), a third-team all-state and first-team all-district selection, returns to lead the 4-2-5 defense. Wing, Nance and Aaron Jurden return to the secondary.
Eric Lensink, a special mention all-district selection, returns at outside linebacker, with Davis also seeing time at linebacker. Brenden Jurden, DeBevoise and Hartman anchor the defensive front.
A year ago, the Green Wave dropped its opener to Ready 34-20 and responded by winning its next seven games. Newark Catholic finished the regular season 8-2, which included a 6-1 mark in MSL-Ohio Division and a share of the league title with Licking Valley and Granville.
This fall, Newark Catholic has moved to the re-formed Licking County League, which Franks said "is going to be a handful."
The Green Wave is in the Small School Division with Heath, Johnstown, Northridge and Utica. The Big School Division features Granville, Lakewood, Licking Heights, Licking Valley and Watkins Memorial.
Newark Catholic still leads all schools with 67 playoffs wins.
"They like to play football. When the pads come on they like to play and that is most of it," Franks said. "If you have a group that has some toughness and has some togetherness and they like to play, that's ingredients for success.
"We have a big mountain to climb, but we're excited for this group to go give it a shot."