Joel Cutler has coached football for 19 years, 16 of which have been at Upper Arlington High School and the past seven of which have been as a head coach, including the last four with the Golden Bears.
Cutler can't remember a season quite like the one his team recently finished, and he would be fine if it never happens again.
Faced with near-constant adversity ranging from season-ending injuries to a forfeit that cost the team a chance at both a share of the OCC-Central Division championship and a winning record, UA finished 4-6 overall and 2-3 in the league.
It marks the Bears' first losing season since 2004, when they also went 4-6, and only their second sub-.500 campaign since 1963.
"This is definitely one season that will stand out in my memory. I don't remember anything quite like this," Cutler said. "The guys maintained a positive attitude through all of it. The players (and) the coaches never threw the towel in, and there were plenty of chances to do that. But nobody ever did."
A 9-6 loss to Hilliard Davidson on Oct. 6 dropped UA to 3-4 and left it as a long shot to make the Division I, Region 2 playoffs. The Bears kept their hopes afloat with a 34-7 win over Marysville on Oct. 13 but still were 14th in the region after a 24-19 win at Central Crossing on Oct. 20. The top eight teams in the region make the playoffs.
Those last-ditch hopes were squashed Oct. 25 when UA was forced to forfeit its win over the Comets because it had used an ineligible player.
The Bears led Dublin Coffman 7-0 in the second half of their regular-season finale Oct. 27 but lost 14-7.
UA, which did not win consecutive games all year, finished 17th in the region.
A rash of injuries began during two-a-days, when senior running back Brandon Horsley tore his right ACL and missed the entire season. Senior running back Avery Heath overcame an early ankle injury to rush for a team-high 769 yards and five touchdowns on 116 carries and catch seven passes for 106 yards and another two scores, but by late September, UA had lost two offensive linemen for the season in seniors Jake Evans and Jack Stephens. Evans suffered a torn left ACL.
Sophomore running back Eli D'Herete added 479 yards rushing and four touchdowns on 96 carries.
In his first year as a starter, junior quarterback Sammy Sass completed 95 of 202 passes for 1,342 yards with 13 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.
His top wide receivers were junior Josh Rushin, who had 27 catches for 420 yards and four touchdowns, and junior Steven Bair, who had 26 receptions for 389 yards and three scores.
Senior linebacker Dante Landolfi made a team-high 101 tackles, including 43 solo, and had one sack and one interception. Junior defensive lineman Jackson Ness led the Bears in sacks with seven and senior lineman Nick Cipriano had four.
UA's other wins came against St. Charles (53-0 on Aug. 25), Westerville North (24-14) and Westland (39-7 on Sept. 29). The Bears also lost to Westerville Central (31-21 on Sept. 1), Westerville South (26-0 on Sept. 15) and Pickerington Central (41-7 on Sept. 22).
UA tied Central Crossing and Marysville for third in the OCC-Central, behind Coffman (5-0) and Davidson (4-1) and ahead of Westland (0-5).
Landolfi shared league Player of the Year honors with Westland's Ousmane Dabo, Coffman's Griffin Hoak and Marysville's Tommy Rush and was the league's Ernie Godfrey Award winner.
Cipriano, Rushin, junior linebacker Nick Fisanick and junior punter Ben Krimm also were named first-team all-league. Fisanick had 30 tackles.
Ness, seniors Matt Hoke (OL/DL) and Scott Raber (WR/DB) and junior Jud Utgard (OL/DL) were second-team all-league, senior Dylan Lewis (WR/DB) was special mention all-league and Sass was honorable mention all-league.
"One silver lining is that we got a lot of guys playing time, especially sophomores, and hopefully that will pay off," Cutler said, referring to wide receiver/defensive back Liam Keethler, offensive lineman Sean McRae and running back Chris Schweisthal, among others. "Our defense held up very well for the most part. Dante had a big year. Nick Cipriano, Jackson Ness and Nick Fisanick were all huge for us.
"Sammy grew a lot during the year. It's not easy having a different group on the offensive line almost every week, but eventually things settled down. He had better chemistry with Josh and Steven as the season went on."
UA's non-league schedule for 2018 is almost entirely revamped.
The Bears will open at home against Reynoldsburg and also have road games at Cincinnati Winton Woods, Findlay and South in addition to a home game against Lancaster before beginning OCC-Central play.