The Thomas Worthington High School football team has a little pep in its step as it prepares for the season.
The Cardinals have good team speed and are an experienced bunch, with eight starters on offense and six on defense among 25 returning letterwinners.
Sixth-year coach Scott Gordon hopes those positive factors help his team improve on last season's records of 2-8 overall and 2-5 in the OCC-Central Division as the Cardinals seek their first winning season since going 7-3 in 1999.
"The keys to our success are getting out to a fast start in games and staying healthy," said Gordon, whose team opens Friday, Aug. 30, at home against Jonathan Alder. "We need to continue to develop depth as the season goes on, especially on the offensive and defensive lines.
"We're experienced, with 33 seniors. We have outstanding team speed and explosive playmakers with a strong kicking game."
The offense will feature one of the area's top running backs in senior Tony Harvard, who rushed for 1,172 yards and nine touchdowns on 216 carries and caught 27 passes for 247 yards and two touchdowns. He was second-team all-league and special mention all-district in Division I.
"Tony Harvard is a strong, explosive runner with great change of direction," Gordon said. "I'd say he's probably the best high school running back in all of central Ohio."
Senior quarterback Danny Gordon, coach Gordon's son, was 112-for-205 passing for 1,278 yards with eight touchdowns and nine interceptions. He was honorable mention all-district.
Senior receivers Brandon Miller and Ricky Washington return as top targets in the spread offense. Miller had 20 catches for 214 yards and one score, while Washington had 11 receptions for 140 yards.
Also back is senior Jalen Wells, who caught 14 passes for 349 yards and three touchdowns and intercepted three passes at cornerback in three starts on defense. He was second-team all-league.
"Danny Gordon is a smart, accurate quarterback who is able to distribute the ball to our playmakers," coach Gordon said. "Jalen Wells is fast and athletic and he'll make a lot of plays on both sides of the ball for us."
Senior returnees on the offensive line are center James Peters (6-foot-1, 245 pounds) and guard Esai Slaughter (6-1, 295). Senior Forrest Eisenschmidt (6-3, 285) is at the other guard. Playing tackles will be senior Wesley Smith (6-1, 230) and freshman Travis Sanders (6-2, 250).
Senior Juwan Brown (6-1, 205) will be the tight end, with classmates Kenny Freeman and Chris Wood sharing time at H-back. Junior P.J. Shotwell will see action at receiver.
Senior Ben Frazier will be the punter and place-kicker. He was first-team all-league and honorable mention all-district as a punter.
Linebackers in the 4-3 defense are seniors Anthony Hopkins and Nick Petrucelli and junior Kyle Hillyard. Petrucelli was honorable mention all-league, and Hillyard also is a returning starter. Other returnees include senior Richard Spernoga (6-4, 230) and Smith at ends, as well as senior Noah Messerall and Wells in the secondary.
Sophomore Preston Byers (5-11, 290) and Slaughter are competing at noseguard, with senior John Petrucelli (5-9, 170) and junior Nate Price (6-0, 250) at tackles.
"Richard Spernoga is a strong defensive end and offensive tackle who has 20 starts under his belt and we're expecting big things from him," coach Gordon said.
Junior John Lee will start at strong safety, with Shotwell seeing time at free safety.