The Hilliard Bradley football team faces a major test in its opener Friday, Aug. 30, at home against Springfield.
The Wildcats return a talented cast from last season when they finished 9-3, while the Jaguars must reload at several key positions after finishing 9-2 a year ago.
"(The Wildcats) are very athletic and can do a lot of things," coach Mike LoParo said. "If we don't take care of things, it could be a long night for us."
Senior Tavion Smoot (5-foot-11, 222 pounds) led Springfield in rushing last season with 863 yards and four touchdowns, but missed most of the preseason nursing a knee injury. Senior Jeff Tolliver (566 yards, 8 TDs) also returns to the backfield and will be joined there by junior Bryce Walker, a transfer from Huber Heights Wayne.
Sophomore Te'Sean Smoot enters his first season starting at quarterback, but already has scholarship offers from Bowling Green, Kentucky and Toledo. His top target likely will be senior Larry Stephens (15 receptions, 363 yards, 5 TDs), a Toledo recruit.
"They have a nice quarterback who throws well for a sophomore and a nice receiver," LoParo said. "They return powerful linemen and a huge running back who is a big, strong kid that we have to account for at all times."
Bradley lost several key components in its spread attack to graduation. Gone are its first-team all-state quarterback in Griffin Veil, its top running back in Jack Richards and its top wide receivers in Jack Duffer and Trey Warner.
Junior A.J. Mirgon steps in at quarterback, with Evan Yee getting a bigger role at running back after backing up Richards last year. The new receiving corps includes senior Ethan Poff, junior Kenyon Richardson and sophomore Tayshaun Mayfield.
A newcomer to the receiving corps is 6-5, 220-pound junior Jack Pugh.
"A.J. has been looking really good in the preseason and we have had some really good receivers," offensive coordinator Mike Owens said. "Ethan Poff should have a really good season, and Jack Pugh has been looking great early on. Kenyon has been opening eyes and Tayshaun is a special athlete."
Tayshaun's older brother, senior defensive lineman Chris Mayfield, has been rehabbing during the preseason from knee surgery. LoParo said it's unlikely that the Michigan State recruit will play in the opener.
Chris Mayfield is one of six returning defensive starters. The others are senior linemen Jacob Noble and Dillon Ysseldyke, senior linebackers Luke Erwin and Zach Komlosi and senior safety Caleb Walker.
Springfield's defense returns its top tackler in senior linebacker Xzerious Stinnett, who had 74 tackles, two sacks and five fumble recoveries last season.
"They have good size and length on defense, but the big thing we have to focus on is us," LoParo said. "We have to focus on being sound in transition and special teams and getting 11 kids on the field. That's opening night. More than worrying about the other team, you have to limit mistakes and take care of the details."