It will be a season of celebration and mourning for the Canal Winchester High School football team.

It will be a season of celebration and mourning for the Canal Winchester High School football team.

This season marks the 100th anniversary of the program, which will be celebrated the day and night of the Indians' home game against Westerville Central on Sept. 11. The team also will spend the season mourning the loss of 2008 graduate O.J. Green, a former football and baseball player who lost his life July 23 in a single-car accident.

Though not finalized, coach Phil Mauro said the school plans to have some type of ceremony this season.

In addition, no player will wear the number 35, which is the jersey number Green wore with the Indians.

On the field, Canal Winchester appears poised for a third consecutive winning season despite the loss of several key players.

The Indians finished 9-2 overall a year ago, placed second in the MSL-Buckeye Division at 6-1 behind Logan Elm (7-0) and lost to Chillicothe 13-7 in the first round of the Division III playoffs. The Indians lost to Logan Elm 16-13 in the regular-season finale.

Canal Winchester's goals remain the same -- win the MSL-Buckeye and make the playoffs. The Indians have moved up to Division II.

Canal Winchester's strength will be its offense, as most of its players on that side of the ball either started last year or received significant playing time. Key players include Mike Mainella (RB), Ben O'Bryant (RT), Tyler Thompson (WR), Ryan Toledo (LG), Justin Whitlatch (QB) and Michael Young (LT).

Whitlatch is entering his second season as a starter, and he believes the experience the team gained last year will pay dividends when it opens Friday at home against Bexley.

"One of the things I've learned is how to make my reads," he said. "Also to not always just hold onto the ball. Sometimes I need to tuck it and run or just throw it away and wait for a better play. You know a punt is a better play than an interception."

"I think confidence level is huge," Mauro said. "Until you get out there on Friday nights and get under fire, it's not the same. Even though you can perform in practice, it's a whole lot different. Experience makes the game slow down, and right now Justin's got a great feel for the offense."

Mainella moves into a starting role after rushing for 500 yards and averaging 5 yards per carry. Also expected to see time at running back are Quandale Littlefield, Alex Pickens and Sam Jones.

"I don't think there's any doubt Mike can be just as good (as Dom Cosby last season or Tony Davis two years ago)," Mauro said. "It's kind of been a nice deal because we've always had a nice senior running back and a good junior understudy."

The defense faces some rebuilding after losing nine starters. Canal Winchester will use a similar scheme as it has the last two years under Mauro but will add some three- and five-man fronts.

The returning defensive players are Zack Hitchens (OLB) and Ryan Rose (OLB).

Hitchens played defensive end last season. Also expected to start are Nathaniel Adkins (DL), Drew Black (DB), Jones (DB), Alex Krigbaum (DL), Conrad Rosch (CB), Nathan Shull (DB) and Chris Wilkinson (DL). The rest of the starting positions will be determined before the opener Aug. 28 at home against Bexley.

"We're getting some younger guys mixed in there, but a lot of those guys got on the field a little last year," Mauro said. "They're picking it up well and we'll evaluate our performance in (a three-way scrimmage with New Albany and Olentangy Liberty on Aug. 16) and go from there. We still have good speed on defense, and that's key."

To help prepare for a tough run through the MSL-Buckeye, the Indians have beefed up their non-league schedule to include a trip to Jonathan Alder on Sept. 4 and a home game against Westerville Central on Sept. 11.

"Jonathan Alder's a bit of a powerhouse," Whitlatch said. "They've always been a playoff team. Westerville Central's got a lot of talent, so those games will help us prepare."

Expected to be Canal Winchester's biggest challengers in the MSL-Buckeye are Logan Elm and Amanda-Clearcreek, though Mauro said no team should be overlooked.

"This league's tough and you don't really want to disregard anybody," he said. "I think everybody's going to be pretty strong. Amanda-Clearcreek is going to be really improved, Logan Elm will pick up right where they left off, Bloom-Carroll's got some good young guys, Hamilton Township has some impressive young guys, Teays Valley is going to a new spread look and Circleville's got a pretty good senior class.

"You know each year we want to win a league title, that's for sure. But we also want to be the best football team on the field every Friday night. If we do that, then everything else will take care of itself."