Despite being just a sophomore, Aidan Kenley has been a key contributor in both of his seasons for an Olentangy Liberty High School football team that has made three consecutive Division I state semifinal appearances.

It's not lost on the two-sport standout, who already has committed to play lacrosse at Ohio State, what the senior class has meant to the program during the current run as well as for the future.

Behind seniors such as quarterback Mitchell Okuley, wide receiver Jake Sincek and wide receiver/defensive back Grant Wilson -- all three-year varsity contributors -- Liberty finished 9-5 overall.

"With getting as far as our team has gotten these past few years, it definitely holds high expectations for the following year's team," Kenley said. "Coming into every season, we've learned how hard we need to work to get back to where we've been getting, and these long (playoff) runs only help to motivate our strong work ethic year in and year out.

"Losing our very talented and experienced senior class will be very tough, but I believe it also leaves many of our younger guys hungrier than ever to be better than the previous seniors were, and that's why we make it as far as we do every year."

Liberty's season ended Nov. 23 with a 42-16 loss to Lakewood St. Edward in a state semifinal at Arlin Field in Mansfield.

The Patriots were outgaining the Eagles at halftime but trailed 21-9 after three first-half miscues led to touchdowns.

St. Edward converted two fourth-down plays on its opening drive of the third quarter and all but sealed the game with a 23-yard touchdown run by quarterback Garrett Dzuro with 6 minutes, 48 seconds to go in the period.

The Eagles improved to 10-3 and will play Cincinnati Colerain on Friday, Nov. 30, for the state title.

The Patriots lose a 33-player senior class that was led by Okuley, who was a part-time starter as a sophomore and started most of the last two seasons.

Okuley missed most of the first two games this year with an injury, and the Patriots lost both games.

Liberty was 1-3 before recovering to earn a share of the OCC-Buckeye Division title with Orange and Olentangy at 4-1.

The Patriots, who lost to Cleveland St. Ignatius and Mentor in state semifinals in 2016 and 2017, were the fourth seed for the Region 2 playoffs but beat top-seeded Reynoldsburg 10-0 on Nov. 9 and second-seeded Dublin Coffman 21-7 on Nov. 16.

"(St. Edward) made a lot of good plays and they get to move on," coach Steve Hale said. "They've got a lot of solid players out there, so we were trying to keep things moving and trying to get guys in space, and at times that worked. I thought we moved the ball. In the first half, I think we had more yards than they did but turnovers just killed us."

Kenley, who finished with 1,044 yards rushing and three touchdowns on 261 carries and added 20 receptions for 234 yards and one score, is among the key skill-position players eligible to return.

Junior wide receiver Kyle Wilson had 37 receptions for 388 yards and two touchdowns.

Junior Corbin Parrish, who stepped in at quarterback when Okuley was injured, should be one of the candidates to take over at the position. He also was a starter at defensive back and averaged 37.7 yards on 58 punts.

Juniors Justin Callahan (LB), Tyson Chapman (LB/WR), Dylan Stevens (DB/RB) and Tyus Thompson (OL) and sophomore Ben Cox (LB) are others eligible to return.

Kenley and Stevens were first-team all-league along with Okuley and seniors Nick Paolo (LB), Mitchell Kershner (WR/DB/K), Matt Rohl (LB) and Jamie Hessing (TE/DL).

Okuley also was co-Offensive Player of the Year in the league.

Seniors Brady Kuhn (OL/DL) and Grant Wilson (WR/DB) joined Chapman, Parrish and Thompson as second-team all-league, with Cox making special mention all-league.

Senior Alex Azusenis (OL) was honorable mention all-league and first-team all-district, with Okuley and Kenley making second-team all-district on offense and Paolo and Hessing making second-team all-district on defense. Kershner and Parrish were honorable mention all-district.

Okuley finished 130-for-256 passing for 1,687 yards with 11 touchdowns and rushed 179 times for 533 yards and 18 scores. Kershner was the leading receiver with 43 catches for 576 yards and three scores and also made six field goals.

"(I'm) just really proud of our guys," Hale said. "They practiced the exact same way no matter what. They worked hard. We've seen some incredible adversity this year. We had hand, foot and mouth disease (among some of our players) and injuries to key players. Just the craziest things happened this year and they never lost sight of the goal. They never lost sight of the focus and kept us on track."

julrey@thisweeknews.com

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