After failing to qualify for the Division V playoffs last season following back-to-back appearances, Columbus Academy is gearing up for what it hopes is a return trip.
The Vikings won their final three games to finish 6-4 overall but placed ninth in Region 19, one spot shy of advancing to the postseason. Academy reached the playoffs in 2016 and 2017.
With a number of key players back, fifth-year coach Robin Miller expects his team to make a run at again extending its season beyond Week 10.
"We should have a chip on our shoulder," Miller said. "It was a slim margin and it was self-inflicted wounds at midseason that kept us out. Being that close certainly makes you hungry. This senior class has a chip on their shoulders as well. They're in the shadows of some good classes above them, but these guys did some good things, too."
Academy will play in football's new-look MSL-Ohio Division, which added Buckeye Valley and Harvest Prep. Harvest Prep's other sports teams are competing in the MSL-Cardinal.
London -- which has moved from the MSL-Ohio to the Central Buckeye Conference -- plays host to Academy in a non-league contest Sept. 13.
Last season, the Vikings went 3-2 in the league to finish third behind champion Whitehall (5-0). Miller expects another competitive league race, with Whitehall again one of the favorites.
"There's definitely a lot of excitement at Whitehall," Miller said. "They had such a good year. I would think some of those athletes walking the halls see what it's like to play football and play under those lights. ...We have a tremendously tough schedule."
On offense, the Vikings must find a way to make up for the loss of Dorrian Moultrie, who shared Back of the Year honors in the MSL-Ohio with Whitehall's Raymell Byrd and London's K.J. Price.
Moultrie, who also was first-team all-state and all-district, had 56 receptions for 887 yards and 11 touchdowns and rushed for 106 yards and four scores.
He joined his brother Herman, a 2018 graduate of Academy, on the football team at Georgetown University.
Also gone are Dalyn DeCree (OL/DL, 61.5 tackles), who was first-team all-district and all-league and third-team all-state; and Hayden Compton (LB), who led Academy in tackles (76) and was first-team all-district, second-team all-league and special mention all-state.
"We're trying our best to change the culture to make it a football culture, make it a football school, which is a lot easier said than done," Miller said. "When we have our system, our program, our expectations installed it makes it easier every year and that puts more onus on the kids as well to pass down traditions and expectations. They've been doing a good job."
Academy returns several starters on offense led by junior quarterback Brady Hess, who completed 132 of 203 passes for 1,819 yards with 21 touchdowns and four interceptions. He was first-team all-district and second-team all-state and all-league.
Also back is senior Carter Warstler, who has moved from running back to slot receiver. Last season, he led the Vikings in rushing with 466 yards and seven touchdowns on 67 carries and was special/honorable mention all-district and honorable mention all-league.
Other key receivers are juniors Sam Huyghe, Graham Mallory and Durell Moultrie and sophomore Jake Carlin.
Huyghe will miss the early part of the season with a right collarbone injury.
Senior Andrew Swartz, who was honorable mention all-league, will be a featured tailback.
"We have a fairly small team compared to a lot of high schools, so that makes us really close-knit," Swartz said. "We don't always have the depth, a lot of people are playing two ways, but it's good to have the chemistry that we do."
Other tailbacks are sophomores Drake Bellisari and Carter James, and junior Robert Mills will play tight end.
Senior Donovan Simpson returns to anchor the offensive line at left guard. He was special/honorable mention all-district and honorable mention all-league.
"It's the family mentality that we have," Simpson said of the program's success. "We work so well together. We see each other as a family and there's nothing like it. There's 50 of us who know we have to have each other's back and we know it's next man up."
Also back are seniors Max Brown (left tackle) and Philip Soderberg (right guard) and sophomore Gyvnn Mendenhall (right tackle), and senior Sam Lichten will play center.
Academy will again utilize several two-way players on defense.
Brown, Mendenhall, Simpson and Soderberg are projected starters on the line, with Lichten and Mills also contributing.
Junior Miles Walter will play middle linebacker, with juniors Vaughn Armour, Matthew Derzon and Keir Gorospe at outside linebacker.
James and Moultrie will play safety, and Carlin, Huyghe, Mallory, Swartz and Warstler will be at cornerback.
Senior Sam Massick returns as kicker and punter following an outstanding season in 2018.
"He's legit," Miller said. "His range for field goals is unreal."
Massick, who was 10-for-11 on field goals and 45-for-45 on extra points, was first-team all-state, all-district and all-league.
James and Warstler will return kicks, and sophomore Parker Logan, Mills and Swartz are long snappers.
Quarterbacks: *Brady Hess (jr., 6-0, 170), Henry Rubey (so., 5-8, 135), Andrew Swartz (sr., 5-11, 170)
Running backs: *Swartz, Drake Bellisari (so., 5-10, 165), Carter James (so., 5-11, 185), Parker Logan (so., 5-11, 185)
Receivers: *Carter Warstler (sr., 6-0, 165), *Durell Moultrie (jr., 5-11, 175), Jake Carlin (so., 5-8, 145), Sam Huyghe (jr., 6-0, 170), Graham Mallory (jr., 5-11, 165)
Tight ends: *Robert Mills (jr., 5-11, 190), Daniel Farber (jr., 6-3, 205), Kevin Reeves (so., 6-5, 185)
Linemen: *Max Brown (sr., 6-3, 235), *Sam Lichten (sr., 6-1, 210), *Gyvnn Mendenhall (so., 6-2, 215), *Donovan Simpson (sr., 5-11, 245), *Philip Soderberg (sr., 6-3, 290), Keir Gorospe (jr., 5-9, 155), Miles Walter (jr., 6-2, 185)
Linemen: *Brown, *Simpson, *Soderberg, *Mendenhall, Lichten, Mills
Linebackers: *Matthew Derzon (jr., 5-10, 170), *Walter, Gorospe, Vaughn Armour (jr., 5-11, 180), Logan
Secondary: *Mallory, *Moultrie, *Swartz, *Warstler, Hess, Carlin, Huyghe, James
Kickers: *Sam Massick (sr., 5-10, 160), Jonah Houston (jr., 5-11, 175)
Punters: *Massick, Houston
Returners: James, Warstler
Long snappers: Parker Logan (so., 5-11, 185), Mills, Swartz
(*Denotes projected starter)