The challenge ahead for longtime central Ohio coach Mike Golden is simple: Turn around the program at Bexley.
After going unbeaten during the regular season and 11-1 overall in 2016, the Lions have gone 1-19 over the past two years.
Last fall, they were 1-9 overall and 0-5 in the MSL-Ohio Division, with their lone victory a 16-0 win over Campbell Memorial in Week 2.
Golden, 63, will make his fifth stop as a head coach after previously leading the programs at Watterson (1988-2002), New Albany (2004), Upper Arlington (2005-13) and Delaware (2014-17). He has a career record of 217-98 in 29 seasons, led Watterson to the Division III state title in 2002 and was in the inaugural class of the Central District Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2017.
He said everything comes down to winning, no matter the task.
"You have to win every day," said Golden, who takes over for Nathan Castorena after two seasons. "You have to win every drill that you do. There's no magic formula. It's just winning every day, and we're trying to stress that to them.
"To compliment the last staff, they did keep the kids' spirits up. The players came in with a good attitude and we had good numbers, which is always good. That's not easy when you go through a tough stretch."
Senior Carter Brenner, who returns at wide receiver and defensive back, said players are eager to change their fate on the field.
"It was a big learning curve and we didn't play too well over the past couple of seasons," Brenner said. "We kind of learned how to lose, and we have to stop that. We need to learn to win and have more 'W's' at the end of the season."
Senior Grant Sheridan said the coaching staff has had a positive impact in the offseason.
"It's going really well," said Sheridan, who will see action at running back and linebacker. "The new coaching staff has been very motivating and they've been pushing us to do our best."
Patrick Beck, another senior who will line up at running back and linebacker, said the team came into camp with something to prove.
"Our attitude has been great as a whole for this group," he said. "We've been really motivated and hungry going into the first game.
"One thing we've been stressing is fundamentals. We've been honing in on that during a lot of the camp days and our two-a-days. Another thing is effort. We want everyone giving 100 percent all of the time."
Golden just wants to get his players prepared for their Aug. 30 opener at home against Waynesville.
"There are a lot of new things for the kids," said Golden, whose team's first MSL-Ohio contest is Sept 20 at Grandview. "Sometimes that can be bewildering, but so far they have great attitudes and great energy We're trying to create a culture of urgency. Everything you do is important, every little thing."
The Lions ran a modified wing-T scheme under Castorena, and that changes to what Golden refers to as a hybrid wing-T.
He said first-year starting quarterback Tommy Bloebaum will be both under center or in the shotgun formation. Last season, the junior caught seven passes for 168 yards and one touchdown as a wide receiver.
Golden plans to use a rotation of four running backs in Beck, senior Troy Redmond, Sheridan and sophomore Noah Lyons, who is the top returning rusher with 33 carries for 100 yards.
Brenner (special/honorable mention all-district, second-team all-league) was the top receiver with 35 receptions for 295 yards and one touchdown.
"We have a new system and a new quarterback, and he's been looking good," Brenner said. "Our run plays are simpler but they're more hard-hitting. I think it will be good for the offensive line."
Senior center Justin Mauk (5-foot-11, 300 pounds) anchors the group up front along with junior guard Joe Callaghan (6-0, 270) and junior tackle Phil Martin (6-1, 242).
"We're installing a lot on offense but we're making progress," Golden said. "Over the last few days we've started to click a little better. We're getting better every day and we're pleased with the progress."
Bexley will feature a 3-5-3 defensive alignment after lining up in a 4-3-5 last season.
The linebacker corps should be led by Sheridan and senior Ethan Fosnaugh inside, with Beck and Lyons roaming the outside.
Sheridan (special/honorable mention all-district, second-team all-league) had 52.5 tackles, including five for loss, and Fosnaugh totaled 31 tackles with 4.5 for loss. Beck added 36.5 tackles, including five for loss.
"The defense is very fundamental and it's been going well," Sheridan said. "We know our gaps this year and we should be much improved."
Senior Luke Robinson (honorable mention all-league) leads the defensive line after recording 25.5 tackles, including 5.5 for loss. Brenner had 22.5 tackles, forced two fumbles and recovered two more in the backfield.
"Defensively we have a ways to go," Golden said. "This is quite a new system. They did a lot of things defensively last year, and this is more of a read-absorb kind of defense. They're learning how to read and do basic techniques. It's a work in progress.
"They need to work hard and keep doing the little things. Whenever there's a change in staff there's lots of demands on their time. If they stick with it, they'll be fine."
Sophomore Sam Powers will handle both the kicking and punting duties for the Lions, with either Bloebaum or Mauk as the long snapper.
Brenner, junior Tom Brown, Lyons and Redmond are all expected to return kicks.
Quarterbacks: *Tommy Bloebaum (jr., 6-1, 163), Jon Spiess (fr., 5-9, 150)
Running backs: Patrick Beck (sr., 5-8, 180), Noah Lyons (so., 5-8, 180), Troy Redmond (sr., 5-11, 185), Grant Sheridan (sr., 5-10, 180),
Receivers: *Carter Brenner (sr., 5-7, 165), *Michael Agriesti (jr., 6-0, 155), Ethan Beckman (jr., 6-0, 160), Tom Brown (jr., 5-8, 150)
Tight ends: *Ethan Fosnaugh (sr., 6-0, 185), Kaelen Mathews (so., 6-5, 180)
Linemen: *Joe Callaghan (jr., 6-0, 270), *Phil Martin (jr., 6-1, 242), *Justin Mauk (sr., 5-11, 300), *Luke Robinson (sr., 6-2, 215), Calvin Burzynski (so., 5-10, 212), Owen Gunther (so., 6-1, 193), Gus Pitstick (so., 6-0, 180), Evan Scott (so., 6-0, 175), Elliot Waldburger (so., 5-10, 200), Tommy Webster (so., 5-9, 180)
Linemen: *Robinson, Callaghan, Gunther, Martin, Mathews, Mauk
Linebackers: *Beck, *Fosnaugh, *Lyons, *Sheridan, Burzynski, Pitstick, Webster
Secondary: *Bloebaum, *Brenner, Agriesti, Brown, Jevin Gutter (sr., 5-10, 165), Remond
Kicker: *Sam Powers (so., 5-7, 147)
Returners: Brenner, Brown, Lyons, Redmond
Long snappers: Bloebaum, Mauk
(*Denotes projected starter)