The offseason began a little earlier than the DeSales High School football team would have liked, but it doesn't plan to sulk.
The Stallions finished 6-4 overall and placed 10th in Division III, Region 11 as the top eight teams made the playoffs.
"There's a great deal of pride that goes with being a DeSales football player," junior Joey Velazquez said. "Coming up short of our goals this season was disappointing, and we all felt it. It's important for the guys coming back to put that behind us and start to get ready for next year in order for us to get back to where we want to be, (which is) winning the CCL, back in the playoffs and ultimately chasing a state title. The focus for us now is to have a great offseason in the weight room, work on our team chemistry and become a cohesive group."
Velazquez, an Ohio State baseball commit who started at running back and free safety and was a part of the Stallions' kickoff and punt return teams, figures to be a key leader next season.
DeSales' roster featured 19 seniors, including 12 who were starting by season's end.
The Stallions won their first three games, including a 28-7 victory over Division IV playoff qualifier Youngstown Mooney on Sept. 8, before losing back-to-back games to Indianapolis Chatard (42-7 on Sept. 15) and Covington (Kentucky) Catholic (35-7 on Sept. 22).
After bouncing back to beat St. Charles (31-0 on Sept. 29) and Trenton Edgewood (28-3 on Oct. 6), DeSales lost to Hartley 23-21 on Oct. 13 and fell to Cincinnati Winton Woods 42-7 on Oct. 20 to see its playoff hopes end.
The Stallions closed the regular season with a 41-7 victory over Watterson on Oct. 27 to finish 2-1 in the CCL, behind Hartley (3-0) and ahead of the Eagles (1-2) and St. Charles (0-3).
At the end of the regular season, Covington Catholic was 10-0, Hartley and Winton Woods both were 9-1 and Edgewood was 8-2.
"We beat some good teams, but of the four we lost to, we needed to win one of those games," coach Ryan Wiggins said. "The four teams we lost to were all very good teams. We challenge ourselves with a tough schedule, but we didn't get rewarded for the hard schedule this year. Since the playoffs expanded in 1999, six wins has almost always been good enough, but no excuses."
Among the players the Stallions will have to replace are three who have committed to play collegiately in Brian Asa-moah (Oklahoma), Brandon Derrow (Colorado State) and Ty Van Fossen (Cincinnati).
Asamoah (RB/LB) rushed for 957 yards and nine touchdowns. Van Fossen (TE/LB) had one touchdown reception and was among the team's leaders in tackles, and Derrow started at defensive end.
The Stallions also are losing senior quarterback Cole Silvestri, who completed 61 of 132 passes for 853 yards and seven touchdowns and rushed for 255 yards and seven scores.
Seniors Cullen Krombach (guard), Jonathan Mager (guard) and Daniel Walsh (center) were other starters on offense, while seniors Will Mnich (defensive end), Jack DeSantis (inside linebacker) and Marco Susi (cornerback) were other starters on defense.
DeSantis was the team's long snapper and senior kicker Hector Gomez made two field goals and 23 extra points.
Velazquez and junior wide receivers Carter Hilleary and Bobby Zendarsky should be the top returning skill position players.
Velazquez rushed for 356 yards and seven touchdowns and had 17 receptions for 139 yards and one score. Hilleary had 18 receptions for 213 yards and two touchdowns and Zendarsky had nine receptions, including one score.
Junior Vince Thompson and sophomore Mason Washington could compete for the starting quarterback job next season after serving as backups.
Junior Rudy Marroquin was a starter at offensive tackle.
Junior Rodas Johnson, who became eligible for the final five games after sitting out the first five because of OHSAA transfer rules, figures to be a key player next season at offensive tackle and defensive tackle. He has received 19 scholarship offers, with Notre Dame, Penn State, West Virginia and Wisconsin among his suitors.
"We have a great bond as a team and will do big things," Johnson said. "I felt a rush to be able to play with my boys that I grinded with."
Also eligible to return on defense are Hilleary at cornerback, junior strong safety Anthony Sciarroni and sophomore nose guard Cole Potts.
Sciarroni had four interceptions, averaged 34.8 yards per punt, made seven extra points and served as a punt returner.
"Even though we lose a great senior class, we also return a lot of talented guys who contributed to this year," Velazquez said. "You'll see a hungry and determined group back next year, ready to do whatever it takes for the team."