Charlie Smith is looking to change the fortunes of the Utica High School football team.
The first-year coach has brought in the schemes and philosophies of his alma mater, Big Walnut, a perennial playoff program. He replaced Randy Felumlee, who was 125-117 in 26 seasons.
Smith knows he has to start from the ground level with a roster of 39 players. The Redskins open Friday, Aug. 30, at Centerburg.
"We want to adapt and change the attitude," said Smith, who was a first-team Division III all-state running back in 2001. "We know that the kids have to be a success in the classroom before they can be a success on the field. If you're lazy in class, you'll be lazy on the field. We want to build the kid first, then the football player."
The Redskins were 1-9 overall last season, defeating Rayland Buckeye Local 45-20 in the opener before losing their final nine. They were 0-7 in the MBC, last behind champion Danville (7-0).
"We want to run a power I(-formation) like they do at Big Walnut, but also be ready to spread out the field to take advantage of what the defense gives us," said Smith, who had been an assistant at Big Walnut the past three seasons. "(Because of the roster size) we have a lot of kids playing both ways and we have to rotate a lot because of that."
The starting backfield returns in senior tailback Travis Baldwin (5-foot-11, 185 pounds) and fullback Zack Edmister (5-5, 150), who suffered a knee injury in the opener last season.
"Travis has been a quiet leader for us and the kids really have looked up to him," Smith said. "I think we have a pretty good backfield with Travis and Zack."
Senior quarterback Shane Sparks (5-8, 165) broke his right arm playing basketball and will start the season at wide receiver with his arm in a cast. Stepping in at quarterback will be sophomore Mitchell Marston (6-5, 190).
The offensive line will have senior Kevin Bigler (6-2, 250), junior Tate Evans (6-2, 220) and junior Will Sherer (6-0, 210) at tackle, with senior Daniel Comer (5-8, 205), senior Will Sturm (5-6, 175) and sophomore Garett Robberts at guard. Rotating at center will be Comer and junior Austin Hays (5-11, 190), with senior Joe Millat (5-11, 185) and sophomore Brock Moran (6-1, 170) at tight end.
Senior Hunter Selmon (5-8, 135), junior Jacob McKee (6-0, 155) and junior Jake Smith (5-9, 150) will be receivers.
The Redskins will play a four-man defensive front with Bigler, Evans, Hays, Sturm and Robberts rotating on the line. Baldwin and McKee will be outside linebackers, with sophomores Pierce Piazza, Christian Roberts and Braedon Taylor inside.
"We play what's called a 60-gap defense, which has multiple sets," defensive coordinator Pete Lyons said. "We can go 4-5, we can go 6-2, some 4-4 and even a 6-1 look if that's what we want.
"We want to have a low-risk defense that keeps the offense in front of us. We don't want to give up the big plays."
Edmister, Selmon, Sparks and juniors Marcus Lopez and Jake Smith will play in the secondary.
"We want to be able to cut the scores in half from last year," said coach Smith, whose team allowed 36.2 points per contest last season. "If we can just cut that in half, and make it manageable, then we'll be in games. We just have to stay away from negative plays on offense and big plays against our defense."
Robberts and Sherer are vying for place-kicking duties, with Lopez and Marston competing to punt.
The Redskins have left the MBC and joined the Licking County League, where they will play in the Small School Division with Heath, Johnstown, Newark Catholic and Northridge.
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.
"The MBC was a tough league, but we've upped (the competition) quite a bit going to the LCL," said coach Smith, whose team has remained in Division IV in the new seven-division postseason format. "It's going to be a challenge, but I'm a competitor and I welcome the challenge."