The Groveport Madison High School football team should have a lot more experience next season than originally expected.

As a result of a myriad of injuries and senior defections, the Cruisers essentially fielded a junior varsity lineup for much of the season, in which they finished 0-10 overall.

"There were times when we had 10 or 12 sophomores playing on one side of the ball or the other," coach Bryan Schoonover said. "This season certainly did not go the way we expected. Although I was not pleased with our record, I was pleased with how hard our young players fought the entire year."

Groveport went 0-5 in the OCC-Capital Division to place sixth, behind co-champions Big Walnut and New Albany (both 4-1) as well as Canal Winchester and Franklin Heights (both 3-2) and Newark (1-4).

The Cruisers began to jell in the second half of the season and, according to Schoonover, played well in the final three games.

Groveport lost to Newark 14-0 on Oct. 13 before losing to Big Walnut and New Albany by a combined eight points. They fell to the Golden Eagles 14-13 on Oct. 20 and lost to the Eagles 27-20 in the season finale Oct. 27.

Senior Izayah Aekins, a first-team all-state wide receiver last season, suffered a right ankle injury during the preseason and ended up missing the entire season. Only three other seniors, Ricco Collins-Hayes (DB), Isaiah Dooley (DB) and Stefan Small (OL/DL), were on the roster at season's end.

Collins-Hayes was named second-team all-league.

Eight seniors did not finish the season with the team, according to Schoonover.

"With practically our entire team returning, our offseason will be crucial to our success," Schoonover said. "How we train will play a big factor in our future success.

"We are very excited with the players we have coming back. We will have a total of 28 players who will be returning with significant varsity experience, and some freshmen who also will be expected to play next season."

Among those expected to return are juniors Wayne Blackshear (RB), Jaylin Chaney (WR), Trent Eaton (OL), Deahmi Guinn (OL/DL), Luis Hernandez (K), Colin Kerns (QB) and Cody Wilson (WR), sophomores Emmanuel Anthony (RB), Esco Davis (DB), Te-Rah Edwards (OL/DL), Tykel Hancock (OL/DL), Skyler Mouser (LB), Colin Rice (QB), Jasiyah Robinson (DL) and Darrell Smoot (DE) and freshmen Elyjah Aekins (WR), JaShaun McGraw (RB/LB), Leland Slaven (OL/DL) and Jahlil Underdown (RB).

Guinn was named first-team all-league and Robinson made the second team. Hancock was special mention all-league and Edwards was honorable mention all-league.

Leading rushers for the Cruisers were Blackshear (129 rushes, 553 yards, 3 TDs) and Anthony (70 rushes, 373 yards, 1 TD).

Leading the receiving corps were Elyjah Aekins (35 receptions, 342 yards, 1 TD), Wilson (22 receptions, 200 yards, 1 TD) and Chaney (19 receptions, 351 yards, 6 TDs).

Rice threw for 569 yards with four touchdowns and three interceptions.

Defensively, Guinn had 70 tackles, 12 sacks, 15 tackles for loss, four forced fumbles, three batted balls and a touchdown, Mouser had 67 tackles, nine tackles for loss and a pass breakup and Hancock had 48 tackles, eight sacks, a pass breakup and a fumble recovery.

Boys soccer team went unbeaten at home

Next season, the boys soccer team hopes to make every game feel like a home contest.

The Cruisers were comfortable on their new turf this season, going 7-0-2 at home and only 3-4-2 on the road.

Groveport's season ended Oct. 21 with a 7-0 loss at fourth-seeded St. Charles in the second round of the Division I district tournament. The Cruisers, who were seeded 26th of 47 teams and defeated 28th-seeded Pickerington Central 1-0 in the first round Oct. 18 at home, finished 10-4-4 overall.

"Being able to go undefeated at home this year was at the top of the list of accomplishments," coach Ivan Landaverde said. "I'm very happy with how the season went. There were a couple of bumps in the road, but that is to be expected with any first-year coach.

"From the beginning of the summer to the end of the year, the team really grew and matured to a level that we wanted as a coaching staff. We were able to accomplish a lot of the goals that the boys had written down in the very beginning."

Groveport went 1-3-1 in the OCC-Capital Division to place fifth, behind New Albany (5-0), Canal Winchester (3-1-1), Big Walnut (3-2) and Franklin Heights (2-3) and ahead of Newark (0-5).

The Cruisers are losing five seniors in Kelvin Kollie (midfielder), Miles Mason (goalkeeper), Josh Max-Dixon (midfielder/defender), Luke Parsons (midfielder) and Tahj VanDyck (forward). They also will be losing junior Abou Diack (defender), who will be graduating early, according to Landaverde.

Kollie was named second-team all-league.

"This senior class leaves some big shoes to fill, even though it's not particularly a big class," Landaverde said. "Not only were they the vocal leaders, but they were guys that you could depend on in crucial moments. I appreciate everything that they did.

"As a coaching staff, we challenged our seniors to think big and to believe in the program. They did an amazing job. ... I wish they were coming back for one more year, or maybe two."

Expected returnees include sophomores Jevon Diawara (defender), Melvin Escamilla (defender), Luis Hernandez (defender), Justin Sartin (forward) and Austin Snyder (forward) and freshman Jeffrey Asamoah (forward).

Diawara was first-team all-league, Snyder was special mention all-league and Asamoah made honorable mention.

"There is no doubt that we may face some challenges next season, especially whenever you replace guys who played key positions," Landaverde said. "But I am quite optimistic our underclassmen are ready and willing to fill those positions when the time comes. I know we have a good group coming in who had a very successful season with the middle school program and they will be eager to continue their success. My hope is that our guys continue to develop this offseason and come in ready to go."

bemerine@thisweeknews.com

@Brad_ThisWeek