Buckeye Valley has a major concern as it prepares for its inaugural season in the MSL-Ohio Division.
The Barons are dealing with a significant drop in participation, as they've gone from having 60 players on their roster last season to having 45 during two-a-days earlier this month.
"Since I've been here, we've had maybe 65 to 75 kids on the roster, which makes us better because there's competition in practice," sixth-year coach Matt Stephens said. "You have kids who don't know if they have positions won and they keep pushing harder. Here and now, you look out there and you don't see a big number of guys who have even played on Friday nights.
"So that's a worry to start and then you have injuries. ... We open with three very physical games and we need to be competitive and yet get through that non-league schedule injury-free. That would be huge for us going into the new league."
Buckeye Valley opens Aug. 30 at Delaware. The Barons, who jumped from the MOAC-Red Division, will join Bexley, Columbus Academy, Grandview, Harvest Prep, Liberty Union, Ready and Whitehall in the MSL-Ohio. Buckeye Valley's league opener is Sept. 20 at home against Harvest Prep.
"It should be a pretty good football league because there are some traditionally strong programs in the division," Stephens said. "We're excited to see how things play out and to make new rivals and just learn about these teams."
Of the 22 combined starting positions on offense and defense, 16 will be filled by first-year starters.
"We're going to have a lot of two-way players. It's going to be Ironman football out there," Stephens said. "You don't have the luxury of getting to the sideline, correcting mistakes or getting a breather while the other unit takes the field. We'll try to get those guys their water and their rest in really short bits of time.
"When you have as little depth as we do, we're also asking our guys to know multiple positions. So if someone goes down, they may have to fill in and play another position that may not be their primary position. They've got to know what's going on in their secondary positions as well."
The Barons have just two starters back on offense in senior lineman Nick Fein and junior running back Andre Ash. In addition to five starters who graduated, four other eligible starters did not return.
Senior Andy Anthony and sophomore Anthony Hughes are vying to start at quarterback to replace 2019 graduate Grant Owens, a two-time all-league performer. Joining Ash at running back will be sophomore Jake Smothers.
"Nick Fein has been outstanding and has been getting to the weight room and everything we've asked, as have Andy Hughes and Andy Anthony and Ed Reely," Stephens said. "They will no doubt be our leaders."
Seniors Brock Buckler, Christian Riffle and Scott Steck all will see time at wide receiver, as will Anthony or Hughes, depending on which one wins the quarterback battle.
Joining Fein up front will be seniors Chris Conner, Ed Reely and Joe Smothers and sophomore Christian Karnofel. Joe Smothers returned this season after sitting out a year ago.
"Anytime you look at the game of football, the games are won and lost on the offensive line," Stephens said. "So to have four seniors in there is going to bode well for us.
"Overall, I think we have some good pieces, but we've got to find our identity and jell early. We're going to run multiple sets and we'll go from shotgun and see if we can spread the ball to our playmakers."
The defense returns four starters, led by Anthony, a second-team Division III all-state honoree at cornerback last season.
The Barons lost three starters to graduation and four others did not return.
"I'm excited for the season because it's my final year," said Anthony, who had six interceptions last year and was among the team's top tacklers. "We had like five seniors who have played their whole lives not come back and I think they're going to regret it down the road. But we're here working hard and we don't want anyone here who doesn't want to be out here and put the work in.
"We're pretty young and even some of our seniors will be first-year starters, but we'll be fine."
Hughes returns at free safety and Ash is moving from safety to linebacker. Also returning is junior middle linebacker Will Weinberg.
The line consists of Fein and Reely at ends and Karnofel, Conner and Joe Smothers rotating in the middle.
Sophomores Landon Dewitt and Carson Vaulx were battling for the third linebacker position in the Barons' 4-3 base defense and Jake Smothers, sophomore Alex Contreras and freshman Mitchell Melfe were seeking time in the secondary.
"We want to see guys improve each week and maybe we'll have some guys ready to step up and play bigger roles sooner than we think," Stephens said.
Junior Felippe Scharff will be the kicker and Contreras will be the punter, with Anthony handling the long-snapping.
Quarterbacks: Andy Anthony (sr., 6-0, 170), Anthony Hughes (so., 6-0, 175)
Running backs: *Andre Ash (jr., 5-11, 205), *Jake Smothers (so., 5-10, 160)
Receivers: *Brock Buckler (sr., 6-0, 170), *Christian Riffle (sr., 6-0, 170), *Scott Steck (sr., 6-2, 160), Anthony, Hughes
Linemen: *Chris Conner (sr., 5-11, 240), *Nick Fein (sr., 6-4, 225), *Christian Karnofel (so., 6-0, 210), *Ed Reely (sr., 5-10, 200), *Joe Smothers (sr., 5-10, 160)
Linemen: *Fein, *Karnofel, *Reely, Conner, Joe Smothers
Linebackers: *Ash, *Will Weinberg (jr., 5-9, 200), Landon Dewitt (so., 5-5, 165), Carson Vaulx (so., 5-11, 180)
Secondary: *Anthony, *Hughes, Alex Contreras (so., 6-0, 175), Mitchell Melfe (fr., 6-0, 155), Jake Smothers
Kicker: Felippe Scharff (jr., 5-5, 150)
Long snapper: *Anthony
Returners: Ash, Buckler, Garrett Carey (fr., 5-11, 160), Dalton Dodds (so., 5-5, 140), Jake Smothers
(*Denotes projected starter)