Dublin Coffman has a legacy of strong-armed quarterbacks throughout Mark Crabtree's first 18 seasons as coach, but the Shamrocks may have a different flavor this fall.
Senior Mike Drennen has lightning-fast moves and senior Moussa Diallo can barrel over opposing defenders, giving Coffman a multifaceted running game to confound defensive coordinators.
Drennen has drawn the attention of numerous Division I college programs after putting up impressive multi-purpose numbers last season. The 5-foot-11, 201-pounder, who lines up at slotback, rushed for 801 yards and 11 touchdowns on 162 carries and caught 30 passes for 464 yards and five scores. He was second-team all-state as well as first-team all-district and all-league.
Diallo suffered a broken hand in a 45-14 win over Dublin Jerome in Week 4 and did not return until Week 9. He totaled 534 yards and six touchdowns on 129 carries, helping the Shamrocks reach a Division I, Region 2 final where they lost 21-7 to Olentangy Liberty to finish 11-2 overall.
"When I come in as a power back, (opposing defenses) don't like to take blow after blow," the 5-10, 215-pound Diallo said. "If you're taking a pounding, it's tough to stop a quick guy like Mike."
Drennen said it wasn't just about him and Diallo, but also the other nine players moving in unison to make plays successful.
"We also have Jameel Williamson in the slot, and we have some strong, tough offensive linemen," said Drennen, whose team finished second (4-1) in the OCC-Central behind Hilliard Davidson (5-0). "We're not going to dwell on the past. We need to keep executing and keeping our heads up. We're going to be good. I can't wait."
Crabtree said there has been a slow progression over the last few seasons toward a more run-oriented attack. In 2016, the Shamrocks had 352 running plays and 269 passing, then in 2017 ran 447 times and called 173 pass plays. Last fall, Coffman had nearly twice as many runs as passes, 478 to 245.
"We've been more of a running team for the last three or four years," Crabtree said. "It's how things develop in terms of the ability of your players.
"Last year we were good at running the football because we had a big, physical offensive line. We're not going to be as big this year, but we can be as physical. If we do that, we have a chance to be a good running team."
Drennen has started since he was a freshman, and Crabtree expects his talents to be on full display in his senior campaign
"I think Mike's best attribute is his ability to play two positions incredibly well, and that's running back and the slot receiver," Crabtree said. "He's good at running, he knows how to be physical and he knows how to make cuts. But when he catches the ball in space, he knows how to manipulate that space. He turns into a running back in space after the catch. He's able to mesh those two qualities together, and that's what makes him really good and potentially great."
Diallo battled through adversity to earn his stripes with the Shamrocks.
"Moussa missed most of the year after being injured, but he came back for us in Week 9 and played well for us," said Crabtree, whose team opens Aug. 30 at Clayton Northmont. "He's a tough kid, and he's got a lot of physical attributes. He's strong and runs over people but he's also elusive. He knows how to cut when he needs to."
The Shamrocks' spread attack will focus more on the run with Diallo and Drennen lining up behind first-year quarterback Connor Mathews.
As a junior, Mathews looks to buck a trend as he is the fifth Coffman quarterback in as many seasons following Ethan Brown, Marcus Ernst, Drew Hodgson and 2016 graduate Gunnar Hoak, who transferred from Kentucky to Ohio State earlier this year.
"Connor can run, and I'd say he's probably deceptively fast," Crabtree said. "He's good on the move as far as throwing the football. He was our j.v. quarterback last year and it's his third year running the same stuff.
"He's a lot different than Ethan Brown, who was a physical runner. Connor is a little more slippery."
Williamson is one of the six starters back after finishing with a team-high 34 catches for 497 yards and four touchdowns.
Christian Yousey also started at wide out, and senior guards Zach Kelly and Colton Wolfe return on the line.
"There are a lot of things we aren't good at right now and some things we do well," said Crabtree, whose team opens the OCC-Central schedule Oct. 4 at home against Marysville. "I think it comes down to how you feel about your players. Are they taking to the coaching? Are they correcting mistakes? Are they not making the same mistakes over and over again? If they are, then you have to be concerned.
"But these guys practice well, and they have a pretty good attitude. They want to be good."
The 3-4 defensive alignment has eight starters back, including three linemen in senior Nick Sayles, Wolfe and junior Hammond Russell.
Wolfe (second-team all-league) totaled 23 tackles with one fumble recovery, and Sayles had 21 tackles, two for loss and one sack. Russell added 31 tackles, five for loss, and four sacks.
"We look pretty good early," Russell said. "We're flying around to the ball and taking in what the coaches say. We understand the game more this year."
Juniors Bryon Threats (35 tackles, 1 interception, 1 forced fumble) and Devon Williams (49 tackles, 9 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, 3 forced fumbles) are back at outside linebacker. Threats also had one kickoff return and one punt return for touchdowns.
Senior Cam Kirk (second-team all-league) will return at cornerback, but is sidelined early in the season after surgery for a sports hernia. Senior Ethan Simpson (43 tackles) and junior A.J. Kirk (special mention all-district; 94 tackles, team-high 3 interceptions) are back at safety.
"Potentially we could have a lot of speed on defense, but what will make us good is if we are fundamentally sound and can tackle the ball," defensive coordinator Curtis Crager said. "We have a good mixture of youth and experience back. You have kids with Friday night experience and others that need to get adjusted."
Quarterbacks: *Connor Mathews (jr. 6-0, 185), Hayden Austin (jr, 6-2, 183), Mason Maggs (so., 6-2, 195)
Running backs: *Moussa Diallo (sr., 5-10, 215), *Mike Drennen (sr., 5-11, 201), Caleb Shafer (sr., 5-10, 167), Bryon Threats (jr., 5-10, 190)
Receivers: *Jameel Williamson (sr., 5-11, 170), *Christian Yousey (sr., 6-3, 195), Ian Carroll (jr., 5-7, 152), Dylan Chapa (sr., 5-11, 164), Alex Diehl (so., 5-11, 160), Drennen, Trey Hedderly (so., 5-10, 154), Hunter Hicks (jr., 5-10, 167), Sean Moriarty (sr., 5-10, 160), Michael Trbovich (so., 5-9, 158),
Tight ends: *Nathan Ballay (jr., 5-10, 260), Tijuan Anderson (sr., 5-8, 240), Hammond Russell (jr., 6-3, 235), Devon Williams (jr., 6-1, 218)
Linemen: *Zach Kelly (sr., 5-9, 249), *Toby Simpson (jr., 5-11, 230), *Nicholas Verbitsky (sr., 6-1, 226), *Peyton Werling (sr., 6-2, 246), *Colton Wolfe (sr., 6-0, 260), Landon Belding (jr., 6-0, 220), Max Brown (sr., 6-2, 253), Chris Maloney (jr., 6-1, 200), Daniel Warnsman (jr., 6-3, 280)
Linemen: *Russell, *Nick Sayles (sr., 5-10, 218), *Wolfe, Anderson, Ballay, Kyle Buckley (so., 6-2, 188), Kaleb Constable (sr., 6-1, 263)
Linebackers: *Mcguire Davis (jr., 5-9, 192), *O.J. Morris (jr., 5-10, 200), *Threats, *Williams, Spencer Richardson (jr., 5-9, 175), Shafer
Secondary: *A.J. Kirk Jr. (jr., 6-0, 195), *Ethan Simpson (jr., 5-8, 170), *Cam Kirk (sr., 5-10, 180), Chapa, Jackson Hoyt (jr., 5-9, 155), Ethan Moeller (sr., 5-11, 170), Dorian Weaver (jr., 5-11, 170)
Kicker: *Casey Magyar (jr., 5-10, 162)
Returners: Drennen, Threats, Williamson
Long snapper: Ballay
(*Denotes projected starter)