Upper Arlington High School football coach Mike Golden isn't dwelling on the fact that his team lost 14 starters from a year ago to graduation. His focus is on finding a suitable replacement -- or replacements, as the case may be -- to fill each position.

Upper Arlington High School football coach Mike Golden isn't dwelling on the fact that his team lost 14 starters from a year ago to graduation. His focus is on finding a suitable replacement -- or replacements, as the case may be -- to fill each position.

"That's the natural evolution of scholastic sports," said Golden, whose team opens against Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) St. Thomas Aquinas in the Kirk Herbstreit Varsity Football Series at noon Saturday in Ohio Stadium. "That's why it's important to build a whole program so you have guys ready to step in."

Entering his fifth season at UA, Golden particularly is interested to see who steps up at running back. Last season, the Golden Bears had three of the area's top rushers in Tommy Farwick, Alex Drake and Isaac Wildermuth. The trio combined for more than 3,100 yards rushing in UA's wing-T offense and helped lead the Bears a 10-2 overall record, their first OCC championship since 2005 and their fourth consecutive Division I playoff berth.

Ranked ninth in the final state poll, UA, seeded second in Region 3, defeated seventh-seeded Marysville 28-16 in the first round of the playoffs before losing to third-seeded Pickerington Central 24-16 in a regional semifinal.

The Bears went 7-0 in the OCC-Central Division to finish ahead of Hilliard Davidson (6-1), Worthington Kilbourne (5-2), Dublin Coffman (4-3), Hilliard Darby (3-4), Thomas Worthington (2-5), Central Crossing (1-6) and Westland (0-7).

Farwick rushed for 1,157 yards and scored 10 touchdowns and was named district Offensive Player of the Year and OCC-Central co-Player of the Year. Wildermuth ran for 1,074 yards and scored 12 touchdowns and made second-team all-district and Drake rushed for 942 yards and scored eight touchdowns and made special mention all-district.

Among the players who will be given an opportunity at running back are seniors George Barouxis (5-foot-9, 175 pounds), Drew Karram (5-11, 186) and Eric Krack (5-8, 180).

"It could be by committee," said Golden, who is 34-12 at UA and 172-57 overall. "I mean it. We're using eight or nine kids (in preseason). It may be a name I didn't (mention) that ends up emerging as (the featured running back)."

Whoever is carrying the ball will have a strong, experienced offensive line to run behind. UA returns four regular starters on offense, including senior linemen J.J. Blevins (6-2, 282), Drew Klamar (6-1, 296) and Brady Siddall (6-0, 230). Others vying for playing time on the line include seniors Sam Ailabouni (6-1, 276), Pete Scriven (6-4, 271) and Nick Viau (6-1, 250). Scriven and Viau both spent time as a starter last season because of injuries.

"We've got an excellent line," Golden said. "That's one of our strengths. We've got very experienced players and they're strong and physical. Our line is bigger and stronger. They all bench over 300 (pounds)."

The other returning starter on offense is senior wide receiver Mac Wilcox (6-0, 180), who has missed most of the preseason because of a broken collarbone but is expected to play in the opener.

Others expected to be key contributors on offense are senior quarterback Kyle Cassady (6-1, 180), senior tight end Will Jones (6-2, 210), senior wingback Mark McClain (6-1, 196), senior fullback Daniel Botomogno (6-0, 250) and senior wide receivers Andrew Badea (6-1, 190) and Mike Badea (6-1, 180). Jones started four games last season at guard.

Cassady, the grandson of former Ohio State standout running back Howard "Hopalong" Cassady, missed last season after breaking the humerus bone in his left arm in a scrimmage. He was competing with graduate John Townsley for the starting job at the time of the injury.

"He's looking very good," Golden said. "He can throw; he has a strong arm. But he also can run."

UA returns four regular starters on defense in senior strong safety Phil Jaskot (6-0, 185), Blevins at nose guard, Botomogno at end or linebacker and McClain at free safety. Jaskot played cornerback and McClain played linebacker last year.

Blevins was second-team all-league and honorable mention all-district last season.

Others expected to be key contributors are Klamar and senior George Schooley (5-9, 265) on the line, Andrew Badea, senior Gerrit Hobson (6-0, 200), Jack Varanese (5-11, 185) and Timmy Yuhas (5-11, 190) at linebacker and Wilcox, junior Damon Rothgeb (5-11, 170) and senior Jonathan Staker (6-0, 170) at cornerback. Varanese started two games last year.

"Defensively, I think we're pretty solid," said Golden, whose defense has switched from a 4-3 base to a 3-5. "We're not overly big, so we had to figure out a scheme that works for us. We've got very good quickness, so we wanted to get more athletes on the field."

Sophomore Drew Dakin and junior Alex Whitcomb may end up splitting the kicking duties. Jaskot or sophomore Frank Epitropoulos will handle the punting.

"We lost a lot of kids, but we didn't lose any more than any other year," Golden said. "I'm not concerned about the numbers, but I am concerned about developing our skilled positions, especially coming up with (running) backs who can make big plays. Our No. 1 goal on offense is to control the clock with the running game. We're also developing a receiving corps that can keep defenses honest and help our running game."

"We're looking really good," McClain said. "We're lucky to have such a great coaching staff at Upper Arlington with coach Golden. We're built to have success every year. Our goal is to win the OCC, make the playoffs and try to make a run in the playoffs. We definitely have a big challenge, but I think we can do it."

Because the South-Western City Schools' 8.3-mill levy failed Aug. 4, two of UA's OCC-Central opponents -- Central Crossing and Westland -- are not fielding a team this season. The Bears will travel to Newark on Oct. 9 instead of playing on the road against Central Crossing and will play a host to Olentangy Orange on Oct. 16 instead of playing host to Westland, with both contests being a non-league game.