After the Westerville South High School football team opened the season with a 19-10 loss to Groveport, the seniors called a team meeting.

After the Westerville South High School football team opened the season with a 19-10 loss to Groveport, the seniors called a team meeting.

"I think they thought they could walk on the field in a South uniform and they would win. What happened in that game was our seniors were playing supporting roles like they did the year before with last year's seniors," coach Rocky Pentello said. "What they realized after the game was they can't be supporting roles. They had to be the role and they were in the spotlight.

"I think it took that loss for them to realize this was our team and we need to do something."

South then rolled off eight consecutive wins and captured the OCC-Cardinal Division title at 6-1. The Wildcats' only other regular-season hiccup was a 39-27 loss to league-foe Olentangy Liberty on Oct. 29.

They finished the season 9-3 overall after a 30-0 loss to Pickerington Central in a Division I regional semifinal on Nov. 13.

The Wildcats finished ahead of Dublin Jerome (5-2), Dublin Scioto (4-3), Liberty (4-3), Olentangy (4-3), Marysville (3-4), Westerville Central (2-5) and Westerville North (0-7) in the OCC-Cardinal.

"We wanted to win the league championship and we did," Pentello said. "Anything you get past that is a bonus. We've won it three years in a row now and we feel good about that."

This year's team faced different expectations. The Wildcats graduated 16 starters the year before, which would hinder almost any team.

"I don't think many people thought we were going to be much and we end up winning the league championship and going to the second round (of the playoffs)," Pentello said. "It was a pleasant surprise this year, but I think that was because our senior leadership was so strong."

Senior running back Jayshon Jackson set the tone for the offense. He didn't score a touchdown until the second game of the season, when he rushed for 318 yards and two touchdowns in a 31-21 win against Dublin Coffman in the Kirk Herbstreit National Kickoff Classic on Sept. 5 at Ohio Stadium.

Jackson finished the season with 2,583 yards rushing on 349 carries with 23 touchdowns.

"It's just nice to have a guy like that you can just go to," Pentello said. "It makes things easier."

The Wildcats also lose an offensive line anchored by senior Ray Ball, a 6-foot-6, 320-pound tackle.

"I thought our offensive line would be a little bit better than it was last year, and it was," Pentello said. "So, that helped (Jackson) get to 2,000 yards."

Expected back on offense are junior running back Daxton Cates, sophomore quarterback Marcus Ball, sophomore wide receiver Gary Brown and junior wide receiver Kelly Carter. Cates rushed for 541 yards and eight touchdowns, and Marcus Ball was 91-of-180 passing for 1,204 yards and 14 touchdowns with eight interceptions.

Senior wide receiver Ben Jones led the team with 23 receptions for 350 yards and four touchdowns, but Brown led the team in receiving yards (353) and receiving touchdowns (five) on 21 receptions.

"It's always a positive when you have your skill position players back," Pentello said.

The defense isn't as lucky. It loses nine starters, including senior defensive back Miguel Alicea, who led the team with three interceptions.

However, junior Charles Maclamore had two interceptions and junior defensive back Evan Lese had one, and they're both expected back.

Still, it'll be interesting to see how the team recovers from losing 17 starters.

"After this dead period, we'll have a meeting and we'll present that very question to them," Pentello said. "We have 17 starters graduating, and you saw what last year's team did with 16 starters graduating. So, what are you going to do? What's going to be your legacy?"