Gahanna Lincoln had what coach Bruce Ward calls a "productive" summer.
Following its fourth Division I playoff appearance since Ward took over in 2014, the Lions added former Westland coach Kyle Goebbel as offensive coordinator and moved Bryce Culver from defensive coordinator to assistant head coach. Grant Jones and Jonathan Hartsook are teaming up to fill Culver's former position.
Ward is expecting Gahanna's coaching staff to be on track as they settle into new roles, which could be vital considering what lays ahead.
After going 5-6 overall but earning the No. 5 seed for the Division I, Region 2 playoffs due in part to beating playoff-qualifiers Westerville Central and Reynoldsburg, Gahanna has substituted one of the teams it defeated last season, Springboro, with perennial Division III-power Hartley (Sept. 13).
There are six teams on the schedule that made the postseason last season, not including Pickerington North and Lancaster, which both went 6-4 and beat the Lions last fall.
"We lost a lot of seniors and we lost some coaches as well," Ward said. "We've kind of revamped our staff. So having all that movement, we were able to install the lingo and the language change, and it was a lot.
"My expectations don't ever change. We expect to compete for a league title and be in the playoffs every year. The names change. The expectations don't. Being in the playoffs four out of five years here, it puts that realistic element into it that it's not unreachable. Some teams haven't been there for 20 years. We had one of the toughest schedules in Division I last year and we've got a tough schedule again."
Gahanna earned a postseason berth despite opening with back-to-back losses to eventual regional runners-up Cincinnati Elder (31-0) and Dublin Coffman (38-25).
Still, as was the case two seasons ago when they went 7-5 overall, their season ended with a 14-7 loss to eventual Region 2 champion Olentangy Liberty in a first-round playoff game.
Regional realignment by the OHSAA has the Lions back in Region 3, which is comprised solely of Central District programs including 2017 state champion Pickerington Central and each of the other four programs in the OCC-Ohio Division.
"We lost a lot of seniors and have a lot of new people learning positions, but it's coming together," junior two-way lineman Tommy Bailey said. "We're trying to improve every day.
Playoffs are always the expectation and we've gone four of the last five years. We're just trying to go out and win the OCC, and that's what we're working for every day."
The Lions lost their No. 1 offensive weapon in running back Justus Harris to graduation, but several other skill-position contributors have returned.
Senior quarterback Will Thomas, who took over behind center last fall after two-year starter Mike Lowery transferred to Pickerington North two months before his final prep season, could have a future playing defense in college, according to Ward.
For Gahanna, he again will lead the offense after completing 98 of 178 passes for 1,050 yards with eight touchdowns and rushing for 339 yards and four scores.
Ward also thinks highly of junior backup quarterback Trey Burger.
"Will obviously was thrown in at the last minute last year after he had worked (in the 2018) offseason as a receiver," Ward said. "We knew Will was a great athlete. He started out slow but as the year went on, he got better and better."
Senior Travis Whittaker rushed for 262 yards and three touchdowns and should lead the running backs.
Senior Cam Morris is the top returning wide receiver after finishing with 13 receptions for 232 yards and three scores.
Senior Kobie Stillwell also will be a key receiver, and juniors Ron Blackman and Mylin Brown each could see time at H-back.
The Lions have a trio of returning starters on the line in Bailey (right tackle) and seniors A'che Sanchez-Baccus (left tackle) and Luke Baker (center).
Senior Mason Weber and Whittaker will anchor the defense at linebacker.
Weber started the first eight games before going down with a season-ending injury, and Whittaker was one of the leading tacklers for the Lions.
Among those joining them at linebacker will be freshman Jaden Yates, who caught Ward's attention at the middle school level.
Bailey and senior Grant Terry should be at tackle, with Sanchez-Baccus and senior Qwyn Williams at end.
Senior Khalil Johnson is the only key returnee in the secondary, where he should line up at cornerback along with senior Joey Butts, with Blackman expected to see action at safety.
Stillwell and Whittaker likely will split time at kicker based on their usage at other positions.
Stillwell also will serve as the punter, with either Brown or sophomore Kane Baker at long snapper.
Kane Baker is the younger brother of teammate Luke Baker as well as Cael Baker, a 2017 graduate who starred in baseball and at linebacker for the Lions.
Sophomore Jaylon Williams is expected to join Blackman, Burger and Morris in returning both kickoffs and punts.
Quarterbacks: *Will Thomas (sr., 6-1, 205), Trey Burger (jr., 5-11, 189)
Running backs: *Travis Whittaker (sr., 5-9, 189), Elrico Alli (jr., 5-7, 190), Mondre Curry (jr., 5-8, 170)
Receivers : *Cam Morris (sr., 6-0, 180), *Kobie Stillwell (sr., 6-3, 175), Ron Blackman (jr.,
5-10, 180), Jashawn Scott (jr., 6-3, 165)
H-backs: Blackman, Mylin Brown (jr., 6-0, 185)
Linemen: *Tommy Bailey (jr., 6-4, 265), *Luke Baker (sr., 6-0, 210), *A'che Sanchez-Baccus (sr., 6-2, 292), Albert Simpson (sr., 5-10, 240), Josiah Smith (sr., 5-11, 200), Marcus White (jr., 6-3, 240)
Linemen: *Bailey, *Sanchez-Baccus, *Grant Terry (sr., 6-3, 280), *Qwyn Williams (sr., 6-3, 260)
Linebackers : *Mason Weber (sr., 5-11, 188), *Whittaker, *Jaden Yates (fr., 6-0, 185), Jabez Hill (so., 5-10, 170), Thomas, Shawn Ugbana (jr., 6-0, 190)
Secondary: *Blackman, *Joey Butts (sr., 6-3, 165), *Khalil Johnson (sr., 5-8, 150)
Kickers : Stillwell, Whittaker
Punter : *Stillwell
Returners: *Blackman, *Burger, *Morris, *Jaylon Williams (so., 5-7, 155)
Long snappers : Kane Baker (so., 5-8, 150), Brown
(*Denotes projected starter)