It was hardly a dream season for the Whitehall High School football team in 2008.

It was hardly a dream season for the Whitehall High School football team in 2008.

The Rams went 0-10 and some of the scores were not flattering.

The silver lining is there's nowhere to go but up.

Greg Lahr realizes his team likely won't be winning the MSL-Ohio Division in his second season as coach, but there's no reason to think the Rams can't be more competitive.

The biggest difference might be a luxury the Rams didn't have much of last year -- returning players.

"This year is going to be different because we have more experience returning, kids who have been here in our system and learning things that myself and my assistant coaches want them to learn," Lahr said.

"We played a lot of young kids last year, a lot of whom are back this year, many of whom are back in the same position. That just leads to more experience and they understand what we expect of them."

Even with the returning players though, roles are hardly set. Lahr hadn't named starters at most positions before the second scrimmage, but he does have a few stalwarts he'll be relying on in the hunt for victory No. 1.

One of those players is Kyle Jefferson. The senior earned all-league honors as a receiver and defensive back, and Lahr emphasized his importance to the program.

"When it comes to a kid setting the example, Kyle Jefferson is a kid who does that day-in and day-out," he said. "He's done that for four years in our program, and he's definitely a kid you want others to look up to and follow. We expect a lot of leadership from him."

Joining Jefferson at receiver and in the defensive backfield is the team's only other returning senior, Justin Sweat.

Having those two in the fold, along with all-league sophomore Tyrone Smith, led to Lahr calling his secondary the strongest part of his 3-5-3 defense.

Linebacker is another strong position for the Rams, with five juniors in the mix.

Travers Clark and Justin Davis started in the team's "bandit" and "rover" positions, and will be key performers for Whitehall.

"Those are guys who have to be able to give good run support, be able to blitz and be able to cover depending on what kind of offense we're facing," Lahr said.

Chuck Thacker, Denzel Smith and Dustin Schmittauer are competing with freshman Isaiah Turner for the remaining three linebacker spots.

Up front, the roles aren't so clear. Junior Jayson Gwinn started as a freshman in 2007, but was injured in the 2008 season. Mark Burris saw extensive time as a freshman in 2008, while juniors Ronnie Ward, Tommy Drake and senior Ryan Ogan all hope to crack the rotation.

There are far more question marks on offense, starting at quarterback.

Sophomore Taylor Hutchison and Ward both saw time last season, with Hutchison starting the first scrimmage this year.

"They each have their strengths, but we're still looking to learn more about both of them," said Lahr.

Leading rusher Channin Porter is back after gaining 460 yards as a freshman, and will be one of two starting running backs.

Tyrone Smith and Turner are vying for the other starting spot.

Receiver is probably the team's strongest offensive position, with Davis, Schmittauer and Jontey Hammock joining Jefferson and Sweat, but that doesn't mean the Rams will forget about Porter and the ground game.

"You've got to be able to do both," Lahr said. "To get to the playoffs, you've got to beat good teams. If you can only do one, they're going to shut you down. We're looking for balance. We want to win."

Burris, Thacker and Clark will anchor the offensive line for Lahr, who is stressing patience with his young players.

The team lost by 10 points or fewer just twice last season -- 20-10 against Bexley in week five and 34-27 in overtime against Lakewood in week nine.

So being more consistently competitive would be a step in the right direction.

"Our goal is to compete each and every Friday night we go out on the field," Lahr said. "We weren't able to do that last year. We weren't competitive in all of our games. We were in a couple of them, but not nearly enough of them. We're looking to go out there and compete with these teams on our schedule."

He added that a win would do wonders for the confidence of his players.

"There's going to be a lot of excited people on our team when we notch that first win," he said. "I tell our kids we want to win one game a week. The sooner we win the first one, (the sooner) we can get No. 2."