As the Worthington Christian High School football team prepared for its final four games last month, junior quarterback Lucas Hartings talked about how excited he was regarding the progress of the offense as it transitioned from a power-running team last season to a more balanced attack this fall.
"Last year we were more compact, and this year we're spreading the field out so that it's easier to hit passes and easier to run the ball," Hartings said. "It's been a big improvement."
Those steps forward continued as the Warriors went on a five-game winning streak to move into playoff contention for the first time in the program's five-year history.
A 22-15 loss at Berne Union in their regular-season finale Oct. 26 ended the Warriors' hopes of a Division VI, Region 23 playoff berth, but did not quell their optimism for the future.
Worthington Christian went 5-5 a season ago in coach Jeff Hartings' first year as coach, earning one win by forfeit, but improved to 6-4 overall this year while finishing third in the MSL-Cardinal Division at 4-2, behind Harvest Prep (6-0) and Berne Union (5-1).
In addition to the close loss to the Rockets, the Warriors led Harvest Prep before falling 16-12 on Sept. 14.
All four teams Worthington Christian lost to made the playoffs.
"There were definitely a lot of good things that happened," coach Hartings said. "The work that our team put in in the offseason put us in an opportunity to potentially make the playoffs and potentially win our league. We lost two games in the last few minutes in league (play), so that's something we can feel good about."
Another positive for the Warriors is that they are expected to return key players at numerous spots in the lineup.
Lucas Hartings completed 101 of 201 passes for 1,487 yards with 14 touchdowns and six interceptions and rushed for three scores in his first season as a full-time starter.
Junior Jake Thompson (WR/DB) and sophomores Braden Anderson (LB/RB) and Zach Hoheisel (OL/DL) also should be among the top returnees.
Defensively, Hoheisel finished with 29 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss and two sacks, Anderson had five tackles for loss and one interception and Thompson had 12.5 tackles and one interception.
Thompson also was among the team's top receivers with 20 catches for 341 yards and two touchdowns, while Anderson had 27 carries for 208 yards and six receptions.
Others eligible to return include sophomore Jeb Burford (OL) and juniors Caleb Harper (OL/DL) and Ryan Snedecor (OL/LB).
Freshman Grant Woodfin should return at kicker after making 21 extra points and one field goal.
Replacing seniors Michael Hartings (RB/LB/P) and Michael King (WR/DB/KR/PR), though, won't be easy.
Michael Hartings finished with 135 carries for 1,148 yards and 14 touchdowns and had 11 receptions for 167 yards and one score on offense. Defensively, he had 60.5 tackles, eight forced fumbles, eight tackles for loss and one sack. He also averaged 31.3 yards per punt.
Michael Hartings, the son of coach Hartings and the brother of Lucas Hartings, finished with more than 2,000 career rushing yards.
King had 36 receptions for 601 yards and nine touchdowns and added 16.5 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss and two interceptions on defense.
Other key seniors included Jonathan Heredia Aguirre (WR/DB, 15 receptions for 179 yards, 20 tackles), Derek Holston (OL/DL, 35.5 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss), Luke Sharp (OL/DL, 35.5 tackles, five tackles for loss) and Garrett Woodfin (WR/DB/KR, 15 receptions for 190 yards, 31.5 tackles, four interceptions).
"Lucas had a great year," coach Hartings said. "Michael Hartings and Michael King had great seasons. Michael Hartings finished very strong. It was fun to watch him get better and better every week, and the same with Lucas.
"We were very happy with Jeb Burford's progress. He's only a sophomore and played at center, and that's an extremely important position. Braden Anderson is going to be in his third year (next season) and he's just a really solid outside linebacker who plays everywhere and hustles. Zach Hoheisel is a big body in the middle that had a very good year, and Caleb Harper came along as a defensive end. We went in and felt like we could control the line of scrimmage."
Vallangeon prepares to run at state meet
Senior Taylor Vallangeon of the boys cross country team will compete in the Division III state meet at 11 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 10, at National Trail Raceway.
The state meet originally was scheduled for Nov. 3 but was postponed because bad weather caused flooding conditions across the course at National Trail Raceway.
Vallangeon qualified for state by placing eighth at regional Oct. 27 at Pickerington North. He finished 25th at state last season as he and 2018 graduate Jake Bertelsen were the Warriors' first two all-state honorees since 1986.