During some of its greatest seasons under former coach Tom Dunlap from 1986-2009, the Beechcroft High School football team built its success around defense and a punishing running game.

During some of its greatest seasons under former coach Tom Dunlap from 1986-2009, the Beechcroft High School football team built its success around defense and a punishing running game.

With that in mind, the Cougars appear to be returning to their roots.

The loss of quarterback Maurice Hale to graduation after he was the district's Division II Offensive Player of the Year has led Beechcroft to put more running plays back into its repertoire, and the returning personnel appears well suited to this approach.

The Cougars' most important player could be senior Adonis Davis (6-foot-2, 240 pounds), who rushed for more than 300 yards a year ago and should lead the running game. He'll also start at linebacker for the fourth consecutive season.

After Beechcroft went 8-2, made the playoffs for the second consecutive season and won at least a share of the City League-North Division championship for the third year in a row, coach Bruce Ward spent the offseason looking for ways to keep the latest run of success going.

The Cougars open Friday, Aug. 30, at home against Dayton Dunbar.

"Our defense is a strength," said Ward, who is 31-10 in four seasons.

"Our offensive production is where we're not real sure. We hope to do both (running and passing), but our greatest skill might be handing it off. We'll still run multiple sets, but we might go more two-back. We're definitely going to try to run the ball this year. How well we can do it, we don't know."

Junior Scott Scase (5-8, 165) is the new quarterback after seeing limited action behind Hale, who is playing for Lake Erie College. Seniors Michael French (5-7, 158) and Khalor Franklin (5-11, 200) are others at running back.

Senior Landers Cox (6-2, 202) has started since his freshman year in the defensive backfield and should be one of the top wide receivers.

Others receivers include seniors Darius Ford (6-0, 177) and Candido Hernandez (6-1, 180), junior Rayshawn Norah (5-8, 160) and sophomore Mike Powers (5-10, 160).

Hale completed 115 of 202 passes for 2,014 yards with 25 touchdowns and six interceptions and also rushed for 1,305 yards and 15 touchdowns.

Another key loss on offense was 2013 graduate Khaleed Franklin, who had 41 catches last season and is in camp with Ohio State.

Also in their graduating class were Antonio Davis (OL/DL), who is playing for Urbana, and Antonio McCloud (WR/DB), who is playing for Tiffin.

Looking to contribute on the offensive line are junior Tyree Dukes (6-3, 275), Chaquez Fair (6-1, 280) and Zack Stewart (6-0, 260) and sophomore Christian Scase (5-7, 195). Ford will be at tight end in some formations.

"We've got a junior at quarterback, but Scott is doing a good job," Ford said. "We've kind of changed our offense a little to help our situation. We're going to need more leadership and for certain players to step up. Our defense is going to be even better than last year."

In addition to having Adonis Davis back at middle linebacker, the defense should feature Cox as a hybrid outside linebacker and safety and Ford at defensive end.

Fair and Stewart will be at tackle, senior Jordan Nalls (5-10, 170) is at end, Khalor Franklin will play inside linebacker and junior Jabauri Webster, senior Charles Ellis (5-6, 160), Powers, Norah and Hernandez are in the secondary.

"We had a good offseason in the weight room," said Adonis Davis, who has started all but one game on defense over the past three seasons. "There's nothing more important than winning in your senior year and we've got a good group. We're excited."

After losing in the first round of the Division II playoffs the past two seasons, including a year ago when it fell to New Albany 25-6, Beechcroft has moved to Division III and will compete in Region 9 after the OHSAA's expansion to seven divisions.

Fellow City-North teams Brookhaven, Mifflin and Centennial also are in Region 9.

After not having an opponent in week one of the regular season last fall, Dunbar and Walnut Ridge have been added and the Cougars again are playing Dublin Jerome. Walnut Ridge and Jerome both compete in Division II and Dunbar is in Division IV.

"Obviously, our expectations don't change," Ward said. "We always expect to compete for the City-North and to make the playoffs but we need some kids to step up. We've just got to go out and compete and we can't rely on the past."