Following four consecutive seasons in which it finished 1-9, Columbus East took a major step forward last fall by improving to 4-6 overall and even hanging with perennial City League-North Division powers Beechcroft and Northland.

There also were signs off the field of a culture change, which a veteran coaching staff led by former Brookhaven player and Beechcroft coach Wes Edwards was looking to see.

It didn't hurt that the Tigers had a game-changing player in Deo Samuel Pierre, who is now a senior and will fill a variety of roles.

"We're on the right track," said Edwards, who is in his third season. "It's more so having the guys at the top that understand the expectations and understand what it takes to win. Some of the seniors will self-correct instead of having us have to turn it around. (Accountability is the) highest it's been since we've been here.

"Even when we were at Brookhaven, we always said East had a chance to be a team in the City League to be reckoned with. It's definitely not easy and you get some extremely problematic kids to say the least, but we get to work through the problems they have. Getting them here and away from the toxic stuff from their home life is 90 percent of the battle."

East had a 5-5 finish in 2012 but hasn't enjoyed a winning season since 1999 when it made its only playoff appearance.

The school is one of the smallest in the City League and again will compete in Division IV, Region 15, but the Tigers have managed to create depth in some spots as their roster has grown.

In addition, they figure to have a more manageable non-league schedule after having two of their losses come to playoff teams last season.

KIPP Columbus, a Division VII program in its first full season, and Dayton Meadowdale, which went 2-7 and competes in Division V, are part of a non-league schedule that features host Columbus South on Aug. 30 as the opener.

"We feel like it's going to be a great season and everybody is excited," senior tight end Antonio Smith II. "Everybody needs to buy in because if we don't, we won't win. If you're not paddling on the boat, you're just dead weight."

OFFENSE

Edwards has been pleased with the leadership shown by players such as Pierre, Smith and seniors Gregory Sullivan-Crockett and Brian Waderker Jr.

Senior Cedric Norvette, who is one of the team's options at quarterback along with sophomore Xavion Dorsey, also has fit in quickly this fall.

Pierre was the main cog on offense last season, passing for 276 yards and three touchdowns, rushing for 1,206 yards and 12 scores on 132 carries and adding a touchdown reception.

Dorsey completed 12 of 33 passes for 191 yards with two touchdowns as the team's other quarterback last season.

Seniors Savante Coleman and Kwabena Woods-Laws are expected to get the majority of the carries at running back, with Pierre moving into a receiving role, where he'll join senior Kalup Campbell and junior Jeremiah Thomas.

Smith was second-team all-league and Thomas was honorable mention all-league last season as East went 3-3 in the City-North.

The coaching staff believes there is potential with an offensive line that features senior Jawan Edwards at center and five others, including four who weigh more than 300 pounds.

"We just want to improve on the stuff we did last year and expand the offense more and hopefully (Pierre) will get more help," Edwards said. "We want to be able to throw the ball more."

DEFENSE

Smith had 51 tackles and eight sacks last season and joins Sullivan-Crockett on a line that should be among the strengths of the defense.

In the secondary, Thomas had 50 tackles and Pierre had 34. Senior Tyron Washington II also returns after making 31 tackles.

Woods-Laws and his sophomore brother, Kwalee Woods-Laws, are others who should contribute on defense.

Kwalee Woods-Laws is part of a linebacker corps that should include Campbell, Coleman and Waderker.

"(The defense is) much improved," Edwards said.

The biggest losses to graduation on defense were lineman Prince Galloway-Miles, who had 41 tackles and 14 tackles for loss last season, and linebacker Jauron Armstrong, who had 31 tackles. Both were first-team all-league.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Pierre's athleticism also will be crucial on special teams.

Last season, he averaged 23 yards on kickoff returns and should be joined in that role by Thomas. Pierre also will be the kicker.

Campbell is expected to be the punter and also will be asked to return punts.

Waderker is the long snapper after Hudhayfah Abdul-Salaam was lost to graduation.

THE LINEUP

Offense

Quarterbacks: Xavion Dorsey (so., 5-11, 170), Cedric Norvette (sr., 5-11, 170)

Running backs: *Savante Coleman (sr., 5-9, 205), Kwabena Woods-Laws (sr., 5-9, 175)

Receivers: *Kalup Campbell (sr., 6-5, 190), *Deo Samuel Pierre (sr., 5-11, 187), Jeremiah Thomas (jr., 6-0, 160)

Tight ends: *Antonio Smith II (sr., 6-1, 235), Coleman, Brian Waderker Jr. (sr., 5-10, 220)

Linemen: *Jawan Edwards (sr., 5-10, 220), Vincent Bell (jr., 6-6, 330), Andre Green (so., 6-4, 250), Marquis Lipsey Jr. (so., 6-6, 310), Jayden Oliver (jr., 6-5, 400), Gregory Sullivan-Crockett (sr., 6-7, 320)

Defense

Linemen: *Junior Breaston III (fr., 6-0, 240), *Smith, *Sullivan-Crockett

Linebackers: *Campbell, *Coleman, *Waderker, *Kwalee Woods-Laws (so., 6-1, 185),

Secondary: *Wayne Lindsay III (fr., 5-10, 170), *Pierre, *Tyron Washington II (sr., 6-1, 180), *Kwabena Woods-Laws, Thomas, Isaac Ortiz (jr., 6-0, 165)

Special teams

Kicker: *Pierre

Punter: *Campbell

Returners: *Campbell, *Pierre, *Thomas

Long snapper: *Waderker

(*Denotes projected starter)

julrey@thisweeknews.com

@UlreyThisWeek