The Licking Heights High School football team will find out just how deep the program is this season.
The Hornets have just two returning starters in fullback Robbie Moore and defensive back Mershawn McMcahan, both seniors, as they embark on their ninth season under coach Darren Waters by visiting Mifflin on Friday, Aug. 29.
"It's rare for us to be this inexperienced, but we had two very good and deep senior classes the last two seasons," Waters said. "I think we have good talent here again, but it may take a little time for these kids to find their way and get comfortable playing on Friday nights."
The Hornets have won at least seven games in six of eight seasons under Waters, with the exceptions being when they finished 5-5 in 2006 and 2011.
Licking Heights is coming off consecutive league championships and playoff appearances, as it went 9-2 last season and shared the LCL-Big School Division title and went 10-1 in 2012 and won the MSL-Cardinal.
"Mifflin will be a good test for our young defense because they'll present a solid run game and they have some big-play ability," said Waters, whose team beat Mifflin 46-0 in the opener last year. "I've heard their numbers are down, but I know they have some great athletes."
Mifflin, which finished 5-5 last season, has depth at running back and receiver. Makiyn Tate and Montrese Frazier are the top backs and Stanley Jackson is back at receiver after being second-team all-district in Division III.
Coach Gregg Miller named D'Anthony Williams as quarterback even though Williams has never played the position in high school.
Licking Heights is hoping to shore up the line in its 4-4 base defense after graduation losses left little of the talent that held teams to 9.9 points and 160.2 yards per game last season.
"We expected we would experience some growing pains on defense after being so strong last year," Waters said. "Our two scrimmages revealed that, too. It seems we're tentative or scared to make mistakes at times. We need to just go play hard and stop being indecisive. If we're going to make mistakes, at least make them at full speed."
Inside linebackers Chris DeLeau and Chasen Neff, tackle Tyler Angle and end Nick Murphy are expected to be leaders.
The Hornets are running a stack-I offense, which gives them the ability to morph into the spread.
"We haven't yet decided whether Curtis Richardson or Gabe Caldwell will start at quarterback and we may use both of them," Waters said. "But our backs have looked very sharp and we think we're ahead of the game on offense in general."
Kendall Bradley, McMcahan and Moore appear to be the top backs, with DeLeau, London Pearson and Nate Thacker supplying depth.
Jake Langkamp and Zach Sims should anchor the line.
Mifflin has six players who are projected starters on both sides of the ball. The defense is expected to be led by linebacker Melik Scott, a third-year starter who was second-team all-district last season.