The Licking Heights High School football team has big plans this season as 13 starters returned after the Hornets reached a Division II, Region 5 semifinal last year.

The Licking Heights High School football team has big plans this season as 13 starters returned after the Hornets reached a Division II, Region 5 semifinal last year.

Many of those players contribute on both sides of the ball as part of a strong senior class.

"We know that last year was one of the best teams that has come through here and as seniors, we want to raise the bar even higher," said Quintin Payton, who is a two-way lineman. "We have the tools to do that. We're reaching for weeks 13, 14 and 15 this year."

The Hornets' defense was impressive in a 31-0 season-opening win over Westland on Aug. 26, but the schedule got more difficult in the following weeks as they played Hamilton Township on Sept. 2 and will visit New Albany on Friday, Sept. 9. The Hornets beatHamilton Township21-0.

New Albany lost to Reynoldsburg 35-28 on Aug. 26 and fell to Hilliard Bradley 28-7on Sept. 1. The Eagles allowed 395 total yards to Reynoldsburg, but running back Victor White rushed for 313 yards and all four of the Eagles' touchdowns on 29 carries.

"I think we have a great defense and it will be difficult for teams to march the ball down the field on us," said senior Joey Harrell, who plays safety and fullback. "Teams might hit a big play on us here or there, but if we make them work to drive the ball, we'll win the battle most of the time.

"We want to be the best defense on the best team ever at Licking Heights. It's going to be a fun year and we want to leave our mark."

Coach Darren Waters said his senior class has a lot of leadership skills to go with its talent.

"I feel this is one of the strongest senior classes we've had," said Waters, who is in his 11th season. "I've been blessed to have a lot of great kids and seniors who have been great leaders, but this group has a sense of urgency, understanding the clock is running out and their opportunities to play high school football are dwindling."

One of the things that stands out to Waters is the total buy-in of the team concept.

"You hear that said a lot, but this program is centered around that and these seniors have proven it," Waters said. "We have what I call a lot of one-and-a-half starters, where kids start on one side of the ball and contribute in a rotation on the other side. I'm sure most of them want to start both ways, but we try to limit the amount of two-way starters as much as we can without hurting ourselves."

Sometimes, Payton will be a two-way starter. Other times, he may just work in on a defensive rotation.

"Quintin was supposed to start at tight end last year, but we needed help on the offensive line and he stepped in and had a breakout year," Waters said. "He is blessed with size and athleticism and he still dreams of being a tight end, but he understands it's big team and little me at Licking Heights."

Still, Payton does dream of a tackle-eligible play and a chance to catch the football.

"I could go for a tackle screen left," said Payton, who is 6-foot-2 and weighs 250 pounds. "That would be awesome."

Harrell has his dream position on defense.

"I play a special position where I'm a safety/outside linebacker in the 3-4 and get to do a lot of blitzing or cover a receiver who is giving us trouble," he said. "I get to move around, maybe what you'd call a roving safety."