First-year Westerville South High School football coach Matthew Christ is hoping he brought some stability to the program while also laying a solid foundation for the future.
The Wildcats contended for a Division II, Region 7 postseason berth before losing 35-7 to visiting Olentangy Orange on Oct. 27 to finish 4-6 overall and 1-4 in the OCC-Buckeye Division. They ended up 14th in the region as the top eight teams qualified for the playoffs.
"I thought we had a couple of shots down the stretch to get in and I thought if we got in we were going to have an opportunity to win some games," Christ said. "It's frustrating when you think you have a shot to go and you let it get away, but that's the way it goes sometimes."
Christ was South's fourth coach in four years. He replaced Kyle Stout, who guided the Wildcats for two seasons and now is an assistant at Gahanna.
Stout took over for Tim Bates, who led South to a 4-3 record in 2014 after the Wildcats started 2-1 under 24th-year coach Rocky Pentello.
"Coach definitely did a good job," senior quarterback Max Barber said. "He set a good foundation for the younger players coming in; (going) 4-6 is a good foundation for younger players. I'll definitely come back to see how the team is doing, how coach Christ is doing, all the coaches."
The Wildcats were led by senior Jaelen Gill (RB/DB), who rushed for 735 yards and 10 touchdowns on 114 carries and had 20 receptions for 357 yards and three scores despite playing with a hamstring injury sustained in Week 5 against Big Walnut.
Gill, who has committed to play H-back at Ohio State, shared Offensive Player of the Year honors in the OCC-Buckeye with Olentangy Liberty's Johnny Wiseman.
Gill and junior Jason Penn (QB/DB) each had three interceptions.
"Jaelen is obviously an incredibly explosive football player," Christ said. "He battled and gutted it out, especially the last few weeks with the hamstring injury. He definitely wasn't at 100 percent since the halftime of Big Walnut, which isn't the way you want to enter league play without your most explosive weapon."
Sophomore Michael Mansa-ray (WR/DB) rushed for 224 yards and three touchdowns on 34 carries and added 10 catches for 204 yards and five scores to join Gill on the all-league first team.
Junior Jacob Boyer was named first-team all-league at punter.
Seniors Tayon Howard (WR/LB) and Michael McLemore (WR) and junior Manny Powell (WR/LB) made second-team all-league. McLemore had 45 catches for 616 yards and five touchdowns.
Senior Anthony Parham (OL/DL) was special mention all-league, and Barber was honorable mention all-league.
Barber completed 91 of 186 passes for 1,307 yards with 14 touchdowns and seven interceptions.
"It's pretty weird not going to practice. It's a little bit sad," Barber said. "It was definitely a better year than in the past years. We had a good season. It didn't go the way we wanted it to, but I'm sure everybody had a good season, everybody had fun."
Junior Ta'Veon Falls (RB/LB) rushed for 300 yards and one touchdown on 53 carries.
Other key players eligible to return include juniors Don Brown (WR/LB) and Jude Pedrozo (OL/DL) and sophomore Patrick Peterson (OL/DL).
South split its games with its Westerville rivals, defeating North 33-30 on Oct. 13 and losing to Central 42-35 on Oct. 19.
The Wildcats finished fifth in the OCC-Buckeye behind Liberty (5-0), Orange (4-1), Olentangy (3-2) and Central (2-3) and ahead of North (0-5).
"A record of 4-6 isn't good enough -- that's not at all the standard -- I don't care who we play," Christ said. "The standard has to be higher than that. I thought we came a long way in terms of competing as the season progressed."