Not since the current crop of seniors on the Jonathan Alder High School football team was in the first grade have the Pioneers been affiliated with a league.

Not since the current crop of seniors on the Jonathan Alder High School football team was in the first grade have the Pioneers been affiliated with a league.

That changes this season with Jonathan Alder joining the Mid-Ohio Athletic Conference to play in the Red Division against Buckeye Valley, Caledonia River Valley, Fairbanks, Marion Elgin, Marion Pleasant and North Union.

"It's exactly the right fit for us," said coach Steve Coate, whose team last competed in a league, the Buckeye Athletic Conference-Ohio Division, in the 2002 season. "We're in a league with similar communities and there's a lot of excitement about it. There's going to be a lot of full stadiums this fall in this league."

Athletics director Tom Vargo said joining the MOAC will help with scheduling.

The Pioneers finished 4-5 last season and weren't able to schedule a 10th regular-season game.

"We looked all over the place to try to fill the schedule," Vargo said. "We contacted teams from Cincinnati, Toledo, Cleveland, Akron (and) Youngstown. ... We even spent a day in Pennsylvania looking for a team to play, but couldn't fill it.

"It's been a long time since these kids have played in a league ... since everyone went their own way in the BAC. (Jonathan) Alder may be a little larger in enrollment, but demographically the schools are similar."

Last season, Jonathan Alder snapped a streak of 11 consecutive postseason appearances. The Pioneers qualified for the Division IV playoffs from 2001-10, and they reached the Division III postseason in 2011.

This season, they return to Division IV in the new seven-division playoff format implemented by the OHSAA.

Jonathan Alder returns three starters on offense and eight on defense.

Senior John Jewett (6-foot-3, 190 pounds) moves from split end to run the offense at quarterback. The other two returning starters are senior tackle Chandler Ferko (6-4, 225) and junior center Tanner Gaerke (6-2, 240).

Joining Jewett in the backfield are junior running backs Jesse Beachy (5-10, 175) and Derek Parker (6-0, 220).

"We run a multiple offense with some I-formation sets and some spread," said Coate, who is in his seventh season. "We try to take whatever the defense will give us."

On defense, Ferko, senior Trent Kaltenbach, junior Austin Thomas and junior Troy Caldwell return on the line, with senior Dylan Alexander and Parker back at linebacker and senior Andrew Mullet and Beachy in the secondary.

"We have some very, very good kids returning," Coate said. "They improved a lot from our first scrimmage to our second, which is what you want to see."

Senior Bravin Herring will handle place-kicking duties. Coate said no one had come to the forefront as a punter.

The Pioneers open Friday, Aug. 30, at Thomas Worthington, a team it defeated 28-6 last season.

"These kids have been very coachable and have responded to everything we have put in front of them," Coate said. "They have continued to improve (throughout the preseason) and that's a positive sign."

Jonathan Alder has 89 players, but it also has had its share of players visiting the training room in the preseason.

"We need to get healthier," Coate said. "We have some bumps and bruises that have kept us from practicing as efficiently as we would like."

The Pioneers return to league play at home Sept. 20 against Fairbanks in their MOAC-Red opener.

In 2002, Jonathan Alder won the BAC-Ohio at 6-0 and finished 10-2 overall after losing to Kettering Alter 35-7 in a Division IV regional semifinal.

"Hopefully it will be awhile before we have to go searching for teams to play," Vargo said. "We don't to have to deal with that.

"It's a great opportunity for the kids and a great opportunity from the community. We should get decent crowds because our biggest draws over the past few seasons have been against MOAC schools."