The Newark High School football team won two games a year ago after finishing 0-10 in 2011, and fourth-year coach Gregg Forsythe said he expects that upward trend to continue.
"Two wins is not nearly what our goal is," said Forsythe, whose team opens Friday, Aug. 30, at Zanesville.
"They've worked really, really hard in the offseason, and they expect more than two wins a year."
The offense will again be led by senior Grant Russell (6-foot-4, 212 pounds), who is entering his fourth season as the starting quarterback. A year ago, Russell completed 137 of 263 passes for 1,553 yards and 10 touchdowns.
"I feel like it starts with me," Russell said. "I've got to be a leader on and off the field. I've got to make sure guys are where they are supposed to be and know what they're supposed to do. It starts with me and spreads."
Russell's top targets are junior Darius Shackleford and senior Shawn Dillon, with juniors Alex Costa and Khayle Woods also expected to contribute at receiver.
Dillion rushed for 384 yards and touchdowns and had 21 receptions for 195 yards and two scores.
Joining Russell in the backfield will be juniors Travon Eller and Dasanto Daniels.
On both the offensive and defensive lines, seniors Brent Benner and Jordan Comer will be joined by a group that includes juniors Bobby Spring, Dylan Maring, Wesley Jackson and Garrett Tingler and sophomore Vinnie Pancini.
At linebacker, seniors Brenton Williams and Alex Lust, juniors Alex Trujillo and Austyn Mays as well Dillon and Daniels are expected to see playing time.
In the defensive backfield, senior Diantre Pressley, junior Kameran Hicks and Woods will be among those seeing action as cornerback.
Russell will be at safety, and others competing for playing time in the secondary include Shackleford, Eller and Daniels.
A year ago, Shackleford had 63 tackles.
Kicker Jed Quackenbush is the only freshman on the roster, and Russell will handle the punting.
Forsythe said that the key to finishing with a better record than a year ago is getting improved play from the Wildcats' defensive unit.
Newark allowed 43.1 points per game last season and held opponents under 32 points only once -- in a 16-14 victory over Groveport.
"Our biggest thing is we've got to be able to play better defense," said Forsythe, whose team will open the OCC-Ohio Division schedule at home on Sept. 20 against defending co-champion Pickerington North. "We've got to be able to stop the run. If we're stopping the run defensively, we'll win more football games."
After the OHSAA added a seventh division to the playoffs last spring, Division I now consists of schools with 608 or more boys and is 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.
Newark along with Westerville Central, Delaware and Olentangy Liberty from Delaware County and Marysville from Union County were placed in Region 1 with Cleveland schools such as 11-time state-champion St. Ignatius.
Russell said he and the other seniors are focused on finishing their prep careers on a positive note.
"We have a lot of leaders this year," Russell said.
"(We'll) do whatever it takes to win."