The Westerville South High School football team is hoping history repeats itself.

The Westerville South High School football team is hoping history repeats itself.

The Wildcats finished 3-7 in 1992 and 5-5 in 1993. Then, in 1994, they went 12-2 and reached the Division I state final, where they lost to Cleveland St. Ignatius 20-3.

After finishing 3-7 in 2007 and 5-5 in 2008, South is looking to take a major step forward, just as the team did in 1994.

According to coach Rocky Pentello, who is entering his 19th year, the Wildcats have enough talent to reach the playoffs and make a deep run.

"I think we're comparable (to the 1994 team)," said Pentello, whose team opens against Hilliard Davidson in the Kirk Herbstreit Varsity Football Series at 3:30 p.m. Saturday in Ohio Stadium. "We have players who have that potential. It's just whether they are going to live up to the potential. The '94 team obviously did."

"I'm thinking state, nothing less," linebacker Jamar Williams said.

There are several reasons for such optimism. First, the Wildcats may be as deep and talented on defense as any team in the area. They also have a talented collection of skill-position players on offense and a quarterback capable of stretching defenses. And despite returning only one full-time starter, the offensive line features four seniors and averages almost 260 pounds.

"Skill-wise, I think we have the most potential since the '94 state title-game team," center and co-captain Mike Bell said. "Our team has really high expectations. We're fine-tuning things to try and get as far as we can in the playoffs."

South figures to be led by its heavy-blitzing 4-3 defense. Nine starters return, including Williams (6-foot-1, 220 pounds) at middle linebacker. Williams made special mention all-district last season and is one of several players on defense attracting attention from Division I college programs.

"Last year we were more of a new defense," Williams said. "We're back with more experience and we know what to expect."

Joining Williams at linebacker are Taven Howell (6-1, 220) and Derek Jones (6-2, 215). Howell is a transfer from Beechcroft and Jones came over from Central Crossing after the South-Western City Schools' 8.3-mill levy failed Aug. 4. Jones was honorable mention all-district last year.

Returning on the defensive line are end Murtada Jabbie (6-2, 210) and tackles Shane Morais (6-4, 255) and Joe Stiltner (6-3, 200). Another end, Daniel Ward (6-3, 240), is a transfer from Westerville North.

"I think our front seven is one of the best in the state," Jabbie said. "We're all big, fast and have experience."

The secondary also is experienced, with junior Miguel Alicea (5-7, 150) and Myke Brown (5-9, 150) at cornerback and Dionne Thrweatt-Vassar (5-10, 190) and Mike Gunn (5-9, 140) at the safety positions. Wayne Roberts (5-11, 175), who missed last season because of injury, also will see time at cornerback.

"They're a good chemistry group," Pentello said of his defense. "They all know the role they have to play and they see the potential of the team."

South, which uses the spread offense, lost three-year starting quarterback Cortez Fleming to graduation. Senior Jonathon Jennings (6-1, 180) was expected to take over. Jennings started the final two games last season for an injured Fleming and completed 46 of 72 passes for 494 yards.

However, Jennings broke his clavicle during a scrimmage Aug. 18 against Olentangy Orange. He is expected to miss at least half of the regular season.

"I took a hit from behind and as I was falling someone else hit me," Jennings said.

Pentello said late last week that senior wideout Tevin Favor (6-3, 195) or sophomore Evan Lese will take over the offense.

Favor was South's junior varsity quarterback in '07 but was moved to receiver last season. Lese, a transfer from DeSales, has never started a high school game at quarterback.

Jennings said he hopes to be back for the end of the season.

"It's definitely heart-breaking. I worked all summer preparing myrself and now I'm out."

Whoever replaces Jennings will have a talented group of receivers in Ryan Barber (5-11, 170) and Jack Tomlinson (5-9, 165), who combined for 75 catches last season.

At tight end will be Austin Parks (6-0, 185) and Josh Llyaneza (5-11, 190).

Running backs Kevin Thrweatt (5-8, 170) and Christian Sewell (5-10, 190) are expected to be the primary ball carriers.

In addition to Bell (6-0, 220), expected to start on the offensive line are tackles Ray Ball (6-7, 320) and Byron Graves (6-0, 250) and guards Adrian Watson (6-0, 250) and Cameron Gessner (5-10, 240).

"We don't have a lot of starters back, but we do have four seniors," Bell said. "The four seniors have played together since freshman year, and the junior (Ball) is really good. (The line) has to be a strength."

On special teams, Jennings will handle the punting and Clay Propps will do the place-kicking. Barber and Tomlinson are expected to be the primary punt and kick returners.

In addition to making the playoffs, South is looking to defend its OCC-Cardinal Division title.

Last year the Wildcats shared the league title with Dublin Jerome and Olentangy Liberty, as all three finished 5-2.

The playoffs seem to be the Wildcats' primary motivation, however. Their last playoff appearance was in 2006.