The Westerville South High School football team lost six returning starters for most or all of this season for a variety of reasons.
The Wildcats lost three on their offensive line, as senior tackle Zack Murdoch transferred to Dublin Coffman, junior guard Kris Holman missed the season with a shoulder injury and junior tackle D-Andre Curenton played in only two games. Senior nose tackle Taylor Zachery missed the season with a knee injury after being named honorable mention all-OCC-Cardinal Division in 2011.
Senior wide receiver Garry Brown and senior linebacker Jordan Rodriguez played in a 55-14 win over Groveport in the opener Aug. 24 but were suspended for the remainder of the season for an undisclosed reason.
Brown had 10 catches for 199 yards and two touchdowns against Groveport after having 60 receptions for 1,048 yards and 12 scores and being named first-team all-league last year.
Despite losing those key players, the Wildcats went 8-3 overall and qualified for the Division I, Region 3 playoffs for the third time in four seasons.
"This is probably the best job my coaching staff, and I'm not talking about myself here, has done considering that we lost so many players," said coach Rocky Pentello, who completed his 22nd season leading the program. "And our players deserve a lot of credit, too, for how well they responded to all of the adversity."
The Wildcats won their first five games, including their first two OCC-Cardinal contests. After beating Groveport, they defeated Clayton Northmont (48-21 on Aug. 31), Grove City (42-20 on Sept. 7), Worthington Kilbourne (28-7 on Sept. 14) and Hilliard Bradley (28-16 on Sept. 22).
South lost its next two games, falling to Dublin Scioto (42-35 on Sept. 28) and Hilliard Darby (28-14 on Oct. 5), but it bounced back to win its final three contest of the regular season, beating Westerville Central (50-28 on Oct. 12), Dublin Jerome (21-20 in overtime Oct. 19) and Westerville North (52-15 on Oct. 26) to secure the final playoff spot in Region 3. Seeded eighth, South lost to top-seeded Darby 31-10 in the first round of the playoffs Nov. 3.
The Wildcats went 5-2 in the OCC-Cardinal to finish third, behind Darby (7-0) and Scioto (6-1) and ahead of Central (4-3), Jerome (3-4), Kilbourne (2-5), Bradley (1-6) and North (0-7).
"We played real well in our non-league schedule," Pentello said. "Winning the battle of Westerville (against Central and North) was good to keep that string going. Making the playoffs was fun, too."
South loses 18 seniors, including five starters in its spread offense in quarterback Nick Renzetti, wide receivers Marcus Ball and Jalen Bell, tailback Noah Prentiss and lineman Ben Rottersman.
Renzetti completed 206 of 364 passes for 3,241 yards with 34 touchdowns and 14 interceptions and was first-team all-district and all-league.
Bell had 76 receptions for 1,209 yards and 16 scores and was first-team all-district and all-league, and Ball had 53 catches for 779 yards and seven scores. Prentiss rushed for 1,064 yards and seven scores.
South also loses five senior starters on defense in lineman Tra Jones and Gabe Whittmann, cornerback Victor Vang and safeties Myles Collier and Ball.
Ball, who also was the team's punter, had four interceptions and was first-team all-district on defense and first-team all-league. Collier was second-team all-district and first-team all-league and Whittmann was special mention all-league.
The Wildcats also lose senior place-kicker Alex Linzell.
Key players expected to return include Curenton, Holman, juniors Timmy Bates (DB), Torrodd Carter (WR), Trey Harden (DB), Darryl Long (TE/DL), Darien Miller (RB/LB), Curtis Mitchell (DL), Darrell Stokes (DL), Adam Thesing (OL), Mike Thesing (OL), Evan Trainer (OL), Kamaree Walden (LB) and Nick Woodbury (OL) and sophomores John Edwards (LB) and Rob Dowdy (OL).
Miller rushed for 428 yards and six touchdowns on 56 carries. Long had 28 catches for 434 yards and four touchdowns and was special mention all-district and second-team all-league.
Adam Thesing was second-team all-league. Carter had 33 catches for 580 yards and five touchdowns and was honorable mention all-league.
Bates had seven interceptions and was first-team all-district, and Mitchell and Walden were second-team all-league.
"We have a lot of good kids coming back and our (junior varsity) and freshman teams did well, so our future's bright," Pentello said.