Despite finishing 9-1 last season, the Grove City Christian football team stumbled in its quest of a Division VI playoff berth.
Coach Clyde Lucas is hoping a tougher schedule and strong group of returnees will lead to a postseason spot in 2009.
The Eagles will open Saturday as host to Youngstown Christian High School.
"We had a good season, but everybody understood the computer part of it," Lucas said of his team's 12th-place finish with 8.23 points in the Division VI, Region 24 rankings. "We had a weak schedule, so we tweaked that schedule."
New Miami was eighth in Region 24 with 10.87 points to earn the final playoff spot.
Grove City Christian will get an added bonus of playing seven home games. The Eagles also will be the center of attention in the area, as the South-Western City School District has eliminated extra-curricular activities. The team added six players from the district's schools.
Lucas said his team will wear a decal on their helmets to represent the district.
"We want the levy to pass," he said. "We don't want to see kids not able to do sports. We welcome these kids coming in, but we want people to know that we feel some remorse that it didn't pass."
On the field, the offense should be led by senior tailback Jessie Barns (5-foot-9, 170 pounds). Last season, Barns rushed for 1,606 yards and 181 touchdowns on 152 carries as he was the district Player of the Year and first-team all-state.
"We're actually looking pretty good," Barns said. "We're improving every year, and we're looking to make a run for it this year. Last season left us with a bitter taste, but our goal is to go far in the playoffs, and we hope to do it with a tougher schedule this year."
Senior quarterback Christopher Bowman (6-0, 150) returns after completing 76 of 136 passes for 1,517 yards and 22 touchdowns.
Junior Luke Smurthwaite (6-2, 190), a transfer from Grove City, also is getting reps.
Junior Tyler Emmelhainz (5-7, 140), another transfer from Grove City, and sophomore Conner Lucas (5-5, 140) should add depth to the backfield.
Senior Brice Bowman (6-0, 150), Christopher Bowman's twin, led the Eagles in receiving last season with 28 receptions for 555 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Junior Christian Smurthwaite (6-0, 150), a transfer from Grove City, also should contribute at wide receiver.
"We're two-deep at every spot in our skilled positions, and in some places three," coach Lucas said.
The offensive line will feature seniors Spencer Groves (6-1, 175) at right guard, Nick Hovis (6-1, 185) at right tackle, Trenton Laws (6-1, 175), at left tackle, Jeramie Stump at center (6-3, 285) and junior Anthony McKinley (6-1, 240) at left guard.
Stump is a transfer from Grove City and McKinley is from Franklin Heights. Junior Dylan Blythe (6-5, 210) will play tight end.
The defense allowed 9.3 points a game last year, and Lucas expects a similar effort.
Senior Evan Wiggall (6-3, 260) will play tackle, and junior Kevin Williams (5-10, 200), a transfer from Miami Trace, will see time at nose guard.
Linebackers are seniors Cody Lucas (5-7, 150) and Zach Snider (5-10, 185) and junior Jaymie Barns (5-10, 150).
The secondary will feature Emmelhainz, Conner Lucas and junior Jordan Keaton (5-8, 150) at cornerback, Barns at free safety and Luke Smurthwaite at strong safety.
Keaton, who also will handle the punting duties, is a transfer from Central Crossing. Senior Gabe Gutierrez (5-7, 175) returns as the kicker.
"If we stay away from injuries, we should have a good shot of making the playoffs," coach Lucas said. "We have to get the chemistry because of the new faces coming in."