The Delaware Hayes High School football team raised eyebrows last season by qualifying for the playoffs for the first time in program history.

The Delaware Hayes High School football team raised eyebrows last season by qualifying for the playoffs for the first time in program history.

The Pacers finished second at 5-1 in the OCC-Capital Division behind Big Walnut (6-0), but now face raised expectations.

"There definitely is some pressure this season to build on last year's playoff appearance," said senior slotback/cornerback Michael Corbett, who was second-team all-OCC-Capital last season. "We're aware of that, but we can't even think about last year. We've got to put that behind us because this is a new season. We want to build onto what we did, carry it further. We want to go way past week 11."

The Pacers finished 7-4 last season after losing to Pickerington Central 38-21 in the first round of the Division I, Region 3 playoffs. The Tigers went 13-1 after losing to Cincinnati Elder 24-10 in a state semifinal.

"There wasn't any pressure entering last season because we hadn't had much past success and the team had a new coach and new system ," coach Mike LoParo said of his first season. "Now, everyone is saying we're an up-and-coming program. This is a different group that has a different look. But we still have to continue to succeed. These kids have got to create their own identity and blaze their own path."

Delaware returns just two players on offense who started every game last season, senior guards Nick Spalsbury (6-0, 210) and Evan Bull (5-11, 205). The Pacers averaged 25.5 points a game.

The Pacers do have experience back to aid the option offense. Part-time starters included seniors Michael Corbett at slotback, Jacob Naegele at fullback and Jason Stowers at receiver.

Also returning is senior Kody Akers, who will move from slotback to quarterback to replace graduate Taylor Wood, who was second-team all-state and Co-Player of the Year in the OCC-Capital.

Akers ran for over 1,000 yards and also passed for more than 1,000 yards as a sophomore at North Union before moving to Delaware.

"Kody played quarterback for me two years ago and ran this offense smoothly, so I'm expecting big things," LoParo said. "I think the offense will click even more. (Graduate) Jacob Nicol was a j.v. player until last year and had a lot of success in a new system. Now we have a slew of slotbacks with experience. Plus, we've got a fullback, (senior) Jacob Naegele, who will give us more production than we got last year. He was timed at 4.6 (seconds in 40 yards)."

Akers also plays safety on defense and was second-team all-league a year ago.

"It feels good to be under center again, but it's pretty much like riding a bike," Akers said. "It feels natural. I'm just going to go out and do the things I can do to help the team get back to the playoffs."

Vying for time at slotback are seniors Cortlynd Steele and Eric Beale and junior Vidal O'Conner. LoParo also said senior newcomer Dominic Cassan has been impressive at receiver.

Newcomers on the line are senior Tom Bankoske (5-10, 230) at tackle and junior Kyle DeVillers (6-5, 338) at center. Vying to start at the other tackle are senior Ponchi Rivera (5-10, 220) and juniors Alex Rider (6-1, 195), Keith Butts (6-0, 200) and Dalton Hartley (6-2, 285).

"We're really looking forward and working real hard in practice," said Spalsbury, who was honorable mention all-league last season. "I think we have the ability to be a very good group up front."

DeVillers is a transfer from Watterson. LoParo said DeVillers and Hartley would give the Pacers some size across the front line, but he wants to limit Hartley's snaps to keep him fresh on defense, where he will start at nose guard.

The Pacers allowed just 19.6 points per game and return eight starters in their 50-shade defense. Joining Hartley on the line are senior Josh Hunt (6-1, 210) and junior Troy Decker (6-3, 230) at ends and Bull at tackle. Spalsbury moves from tackle to inside linebacker, where he joins senior Tino Rivera (5-11, 230). Also returning are senior Franco Rossi at linebacker, Corbett at cornerback and Akers at safety.

"We expect the defense to be much better," LoParo said. "We made tremendous gains in strength and speed in the offseason and we want to post some shutouts and allow around 10 points per game. We're real excited to see what we can do. I think the offense will be better and the defense will be much better. Plus, our kicking game looks solid again with three soccer players helping."

Senior Nate Stuntz (kickoffs) and juniors Jamey Hackett (place-kicking) and Jeff Mengerink (punter) are expected to fill those spots.