After losing a number of key players to graduation and another who transferred, Dublin Jerome coach Bob Gecewich is counting on younger players to step up as they gain valuable experience.
Jerome qualified for the playoffs the previous two seasons but fell short of that goal last year, finishing 5-5 overall and 11th in Division I, Region 2 -- three spots removed from a playoff berth.
After losing four in a row to fall to 1-4, Jerome won four of its final five games.
"We are the land of opportunity," Gecewich said. "We're excited to see who keeps fighting and competing to fill those voids and make their own mark. ... I love coaching, I love our kids."
The Celtics open Aug. 30 at home against Central Crossing and begin OCC-Cardinal Division play Sept. 20 at Dublin Scioto.
Jerome went 4-3 in the league to finish fourth behind Hilliard Bradley (7-0), Hilliard Darby (6-1) and Scioto (5-2) a year ago, and Gecewich predicted the two Hilliard schools should again be the teams to beat.
"I would expect Bradley and Darby to be up there," Gecewich said. "I would expect (Olentangy) Berlin to be better and faster than people think. They had some really good players last year. They were just in a situation where they had to play some young guys. Delaware brings back a dynamic backfield and Scioto has won a state championship, so you can never count them out."
The schedule also includes a non-league game Sept. 13 at Dublin Coffman, which beat the Celtics 45-14 last season.
Jerome lost 25 players to graduation, including offensive left tackle and defensive nose tackle Cam Craig, who is playing at Purdue. Craig shared league Offensive Player of the Year honors with Bradley quarterback Griffin Veil and also was first-team all-state and all-district.
Receiver Trey Ballengee had a team-high 50 receptions for 800 yards and four touchdowns, and was first-team all-district and all-league and second-team all-state.
Junior Zach McMinn (OL/DL) has transferred to Marysville.
"We're going to be inexperienced," Gecewich said. "We have sophomores fighting for spots. We have to get them ready."
Jerome returns a key weapon in junior quarterback Ryan Miller, who completed 74 of 122 passes for 991 yards with six touchdowns and five interceptions and rushed for 209 yards and five touchdowns on 55 carries after taking over the starting role in week 6.
He was honorable mention all-league.
"Ryan has a chance to be really good," said Gecewich, whose team lost almost all its skill-position players.
Senior Adam Booth, junior Nate Kirk and sophomore Preston Everhart are competing at tailback, and senior Dominic Nardone will play fullback.
"People aren't expecting a lot from us," Nardone said. "We might be young, but we have a lot of speed and talent and I think we'll surprise some people. We have the right mentality. We have hard-working kids and we're just going to give as much effort as we can and hope for the best."
At receiver, those competing for playing time include seniors Rylan Alford, Easton Gross and Jacob Nally, juniors Will Ackert and Jack Ballengee and sophomore David Adolph.
Juniors Carter Barco, Ian Dean, Seth Martin and Sammy Stoner are slot receivers.
The loss of Craig leaves a void up front, where senior Nate Kovach should start at left tackle.
"We have a lot of people who are willing to work hard and putting in a lot of effort, more than I've seen during my entire high school career," Kovach said.
"A lot of kids are stepping up and kids that a lot of us didn't expect to step up are ready to play."
Other potential starters include senior Jay Halsey (right guard), Joe Huber (right tackle) and Dan Wilson (center/right guard).
Senior Scott Sonnanstine is a key returnee at free safety, but Gecewich said his status to begin the season is questionable because of a leg injury.
Sonnanstine had 64 tackles, two interceptions and one defensive score and was second-team all-league a year ago.
Also in the mix at safety are Booth, Stoner and Welch, along with sophomores Garrett Cicci and Salim Haqq.
Cornerbacks are Barco, Gross, Martin, Nally and sophomore Drake Williamson.
Nardone, a middle linebacker, had 54 tackles and three sacks and was second-team all-league and honorable mention all-district.
Other inside linebackers are juniors K.J. Robinette and Jack Soehner and sophomores Lance Baldzicki and Princeton Doss.
Alford, senior Ryan Richards and junior Addi Blair are outside linebackers.
Kovach should start at end, with Huber, seniors Drew Kavinsky, Travis Leonard, Ben Miller and Evan Wleklinski and junior Sean McCarthy also contributing on the line.
Gross returns to handle kicking and punting duties.
Barco and junior Ian Dean will return kickoffs, and Barco, Booth and Martin will return punts. McCarthy is the long snapper.
Quarterback: *Ryan Miller (jr., 6-2, 185)
Running backs: *Adam Booth (sr., 5-10, 174), *Dominic Nardone (sr., 6-0, 201), Preston Everhart (so., 5-9, 160), Nate Kirk (jr., 5-11, 179)
Receivers: Will Ackert (jr., 6-1, 174), David Adolph (so., 6-3, 163), Rylan Alford (sr., 6-4, 188), Jack Ballengee (jr., 6-0, 163), Carter Barco (jr., 5-9, 156), Ian Dean (jr., 5-11, 170), Easton Gross (6-2, 173), Seth Martin (jr., 6-0, 171), Jacob Nally (sr., 6-1, 174), Sammy Stoner (jr., 6-0, 164)
Tight ends: Alford, Anthony Monte (so., 6-2, 194), Ryan Richards (sr., 6-3, 201), K.J. Robinette (jr., 6-0, 205)
Linemen: *Jay Halsey (sr., 6-0, 274), *Joe Huber (sr., 6-5, 231), *Nate Kovach (sr., 6-3, 223), *Dan Wilson (sr., 6-2, 229), Noah Dorsey (jr., 6-1, 249), John Garrity (jr., 6-2, 197), Sean McCarthy (jr., 6-0, 221), Ben Miller (sr., 6-2, 192)
Linemen: *Kovach, Huber, Drew Kavinsky (sr., 5-9, 194), Travis Leonard (sr., 5-11, 187), McCarthy, Miller, Evan Wleklinski (sr., 6-2, 214)
Linebackers: *Nardone, *Jack Soehner (jr., 5-10, 169), *Ryan Richards (sr., 6-3, 201), Alford, Addi Blair (jr., 5-8, 158), Princeton Doss (so., 5-7. 159), Lance Baldzicki (so., 5-9, 159), Robinette
Secondary: *Booth, *Gross, *Nally, *Scott Sonnanstine (sr., 6-0, 183), *Cole Welch (so., 6-0, 158), Barco, Garrett Cicci (so., 5-10, 154), Salim Haqq (so., 5-9, 127), Martin, Stoner, Drake Williamson (so., 5-9, 145)
Kickers: *Gross, Brayden Havenstein (6-1, 169)
Returners: Barco, Booth, Ian Dean (jr., 5-11, 170), Martin,
Long snapper: *McCarthy
(*Denotes projected starter)