Zach Hossler is ready to get his senior season underway with the Northridge High School football team.
The two-way lineman believes the hard work by the Vikings in the offseason will help them rebound from a 2-8 overall record and a seventh-place finish (1-6) in the MBC behind champion Danville (7-0).
"This is our last chance (as seniors), and everything is on the line every time you step on the field," said Hossler, who is one of four captains along with seniors Jacob Burke (RB/LB), Tim Gearry (WR/DB) and A.J. Mooney (OL/DL). "We worked hard in the offseason and now we have to perform at a top level all of the time. We're ready to go."
Burke returns at running back after leading the Vikings with 755 yards rushing and seven touchdowns despite playing much of last season with a broken bone in his right foot. He had surgery in January.
"My foot feels great," he said. "I really worked hard in the offseason to get ready. My speed is the same, but now I feel bigger and stronger. I've gained 15 pounds to get ready for the season."
Burke and Hossler are two of seven returning starters in the Vikings' offense, which features I-formation looks as well as some spread formations. Seniors Jon Barber and Mooney return on the line, with senior Eric Dills back at fullback, junior Bryant Garee at quarterback and junior Chase Hess at wide receiver.
"Last year, we stayed simple and worked on fundamentals," second-year coach Darby Riley said. "This year, we're going to do a little more, but we still have to do the fundamentals. Those are basic to everything."
The Vikings also return seven starters in their 4-4 defense. Hossler and Mooney are back on the line with Burke, Dills, senior Tanner Williamson and junior Brennan Angus at linebacker. Hess returns in the secondary.
"We scrimmaged Danville (on Aug. 13), and it was really physical," Riley said. "That's what we wanted out of it. We wanted to challenge our kids, and the whole idea of a scrimmage is to have competition and gauge how good we can be. We got our feet wet and really learned a lot from that."
The Vikings have 39 players, including nine seniors who Riley believes will be key to any success the team might have.
"I really like the leadership from our nine seniors," he said. "Their leadership has been great during strength and conditioning workouts in the offseason. We're trying to build pride in the program."
The Vikings still lack depth, which becomes magnified when injuries arise.
"We have that small-school mentality," Riley said. "We have to stay healthy. We have a couple good young classes of freshmen and sophomores. These kids won in junior high, so that should help us."
Northridge opens Friday, Aug. 30, at home against Millersport, which it defeated 34-0 last season.
The Vikings have left the MBC to join the Licking County League.
They will play in the Small School Division with Heath, Johnstown, Newark Catholic and Utica.
The Big School Division is comprised of Granville, Lakewood, Licking Heights, Licking Valley and Watkins Memorial. Crossover games played in weeks four through 10 will count toward a team's league record, allowing all teams to have seven league contests.
"We're more determined than ever," said Burke, whose team has moved from Division IV, Region 15 to Division V, Region 17 in the new seven-division postseason format. "We all know as seniors that this is our last go-round. Now we're in a new league and that adds more to everything. We have put in the work and we know what needs to be done. Now we just have to go out and do it."