For the Olentangy Orange High School football team, its inaugural season was about learning the system and growing as a team.

For the Olentangy Orange High School football team, its inaugural season was about learning the system and growing as a team.

The second year is all about winning.

Coach Brian Cross has made it clear to his team -- the goal is to win the OCC-Capital Division and clinch a playoff berth. The Pioneers were in Division III last season but have moved up to Division II.

"We want to reverse last year's record of 3-7 and go 7-3 or better," said Cross, whose team opens its second season Friday at Olentangy. "The message we sent to the kids (in the offseason) was that we needed to develop both physical and mental toughness."

The team seems to have taken Cross' message to heart, as players worked hard in the weight room and got together over the summer to work on their chemistry.

"We want to leave on a high note," senior quarterback and cornerback Corey Joe said. "We got guys together on the weekends to work on timing and such. Physically, we are stronger and we have more speed. We still have some sharp edges to work out."

Orange won its first two games last season, beating Elgin 21-20 and New Breman 38-20, but lost seven of its final eight. Its only other win was a 28-14 victory over Watkins Memorial, in which Joe ran for 256 yards and three touchdowns on 23 carries and competed five of seven passes for 90 yards.

The Pioneers finished 1-5 in the OCC-Capital, tying Mount Vernon for sixth behind Big Walnut (6-0), Delaware (5-1), New Albany (4-2), Franklin Heights (2-4) and Watkins Memorial (2-4). Hilliard Bradley joins the league this year, but Franklin Heights is not fielding a team because the South-Western City Schools' 8.3-mill levy failed Aug. 4.

Orange, which entered last season with only two players with varsity experience, was competitive in just about every game. It even held fourth-quarter leads in a 22-20 loss to Mount Vernon and a 30-21 loss to New Albany.

"We believe we have some skill and good depth on our offensive line, so it's going to be a matter of how physical we play," said Cross, whose team returns 26 players who started at least one game a year ago. "Last year, with having no seniors and not having a full year under our belt, we weren't as strong, but I think we've caught up in that area."

Joe leads the Pioneers' offense, which will operate out of the wing-T formation or spread. Juniors Blake Joe and Jake Vacheresse will split time at running back and juniors Clinton Agbor and Daniel Watson will share time at fullback. The receiving corps features senior wide receivers Ross Smith and Chase Swisher and senior tight end Andy Ebersbach.

Last season, Corey Joe completed 42 of 102 passes for 719 yards and rushed for 584 yards and six touchdowns on 125 carries. Vacheresse ran for 417 yards and five touchdowns on 97 carries and Blake Joe rushed for 298 yards on 45 carries.

Smith was the team's leading receiver, catching 12 passes for 334 yards. Swisher had 10 receptions for 163 yards.

The offensive line will consist of seniors Alec Bartz, Eric Barnes, Kyle Bogner, Alec Dickman and Josh Winn. Junior Jared Leet is the backup quarterback.

"We want to be able to control the football," Cross said. "Last year, we did not do a good job of that. We also want to a better job of mixing the run and the pass, especially in the early downs."

Orange primarily will use a 4-3 base defense. Its linebackers include seniors Alex Chekanoff, Jacob Harris and Kyle Henderson and juniors Marquis Boykin, Josh Enneking and Drew Howdyshell.

The secondary will consist of Corey Joe, who made second-team all-district on defense last year, as well as junior Pablo Kirigiti and senior Terrance Rode splitting time at cornerback. The safeties include Smith, senior Brock Heller and Leet.

The defensive line includes Dickman and seniors Tyler Hughes, Andrew Laws, Jason Tomlinson and Chaz Weisenstein.

Along with more experience, Cross believes his team has more depth than it had a year ago.

"I hope that we can get to the point where only one or two guys are playing both sides of the ball," he said.

Senior Luke Rice returns as place-kicker and Leet is expected to handle the punting duties. Last year, Rice made one field goal and connected on 23 of 26 extra-point attempts.

"Luke has gotten better and we feel comfortable trying 45-yard field goals, so that's a big weapon for us," Cross said. "And hopefully this year, he's going to kick a lot of balls inside the 5-yard line kicking off, which is going to make (opponents) go further to score."

For the Orange seniors, the time is now.

They saw other programs in the school have success last year and want to replicate that on the football field.

"We saw that our fellow counterparts got it done," Corey Joe said. "We need to start (football) traditions now. We, as seniors, want to leave our mark."