With 18 players returning who earned at least a handful of starts last season, Groveport Madison coach Bryan Schoonover is excited with the veteran look of his squad as well as its offseason work in the weight room and performance during preseason camp.
"I think we can have a very special season because we have a group that understands expectations and we're getting great senior leadership, which is producing a great culture," said Schoonover, who is entering his seventh season. "We're way ahead of schedule offensively from where we were last year when we installed the wing-T. I don't know that the kids grasped it well until after the first month last year.
"We still have some position battles at some spots, but we're also going to have some situational rotations in some spots, like the defensive line and at running backs and fullbacks."
The Cruisers will open Aug. 30 at home against Westerville North, which beat Groveport 10-7 last season.
"We let two or three games get through our hands (last year) and that was one of them," Schoonover said. "Instead of going 5-5, we feel we could've been 7-3 or even 8-2 if we'd played to our abilities."
The Cruisers lost OCC-Capital contests to champion Canal Winchester 14-7 and runner-up New Albany 24-10 in the season finale to finish 3-2 in league play.
Senior Colin Rice will be the quarterback after sharing duties last season.
"We didn't throw the ball well last year, but Colin has been running the offense very efficiently and has shown lots of growth," Schoonover said. "Elyjah Aekins began last year as the starter, but this move frees him up and he can do a lot of damage catching the ball in the pass game and making explosive plays when he gets in space."
Senior Emmanuel Anthony and junior Jhalil Underdown return at running back and will join with junior Te'ron Coleman to give the Cruisers a trio of dangerous backs.
Underdown rushed for 813 yards and 10 touchdowns on 91 carries and was first-team all-league.
"They have different skill sets and we'll use them to our advantage," Schoonover said. "Emmanuel is a big, shifty runner who dropped some weight and increased his speed and Jhalil and Te'ron are explosive kids. When they have the ball, they're a big play waiting to happen."
At fullback, senior Allan Joyce and junior JaShaun McGraw will split time. McGraw was second-team all-league and Joyce was honorable mention.
"Allan Joyce also is a middle linebacker on defense and that's why we're working in situational rotations and packages," Schoonover said. "Nobody is going to play 100-plus snaps. We want to limit their workload to around 75 or 80 snaps."
The offensive line will be anchored by seniors Te-rah Edwards and Nick Wheeler at guards. Juniors Markarius Mosley (tackle), Cameron Rajamountry (tackle) and Leland Slaven (center) also should start, with senior Tykel Hancock-Anderson and juniors Garrett Ottman and Angel Solis in the rotation as well.
Edwards, who committed to Northwestern in April, was first-team all-league. He had 47 pancake blocks and did not allow a sack last season.
"The O-line is a solid group and all have experience," Schoonover said. "They're strong and physical kids who enjoy being around each other. If things take shape like expected, we can be dynamic on offense."
A strong front four and linebacker corps will lead the Cruisers' 4-3 base defense.
Seniors Jasiyah Robinson and Darrell Smoot will be at the end positions, with Edwards and Hancock-Anderson in the middle up front.
Robinson had 79 tackles, including 18 for loss, with 7.5 sacks and a safety and was first-team all-league. Edwards had 30 tackles, including four for loss. Hancock-Anderson was special mention all-league.
Slaven, Wheeler and senior R'rion Cobb will add depth up front.
Joyce will be joined at linebacker by senior Skylar Mouser and either senior Cameron Prater or junior Clarence Gossett. Prater was a safety last season.
"Jasiyah is a tremendous athlete who had a terrific offseason and Smoot had an unbelievable camp," Schoonover said. "Skylar was the heart and soul of the defense last year and Prater put on nearly 30 pounds and we're expecting big things from Allan Joyce in the middle. I really like the entire front seven."
Returning in the backfield are senior Keimare Burnett and juniors John Motton and Mike Davis. Aekins will round out the secondary.
Davis, Motton and Mouser all were second-team all-league.
Senior Austin Snyder returns at kicker after being named second-team all-league. He also will do the punting.
Quarterbacks: *Colin Rice (sr., 5-10, 150), Tyler Love (so., 6-0, 155), Isaiah Rogers (jr., 5-11, 190)
Running backs: Emmanuel Anthony (sr., 5-10, 205), Te'ron Coleman (jr., 5-6, 150), Allan Joyce (sr., 5-10, 200), JaShaun McGraw (jr., 5-10, 240), Jhalil Underdown (jr., 5-9, 185
Receivers: *Carl Allen (so, 6-0, 155), *Ryan Burke (sr., 5-8, 180), Elyjah Aekins (jr., 5-10, 165)
Tight ends: *Darrell Smoot (sr., 6-3, 230), R'rion Cobb (sr., 5-11, 235), Clarence Gossett (jr., 6-1, 200)
Linemen: *Te-rah Edwards (sr., 6-2, 295), *Markarius Mosley (jr., 6-2, 245), *Nick Wheeler (sr., 6-1, 255), Kyle Gossett (jr., 6-1, 270), Tykel Hancock-Anderson (sr., 6-0, 285), Garrett Ottman (jr., 5-8, 195), Cameron Rajamountry (jr., 5-10, 255), Leland Slaven (jr. 5-11, 240), Angel Solis (jr., 5-10, 250), Zach Ward (sr., 5-8, 240)
Linemen: *Edwards, *Hancock, *Jasiyah Robinson (sr., 6-4, 225), *Smoot, Cobb, Mosley, Slaven, Wheeler
Linebackers: *Joyce, *Skylar Mouser (sr., 5-10, 185), Clarence Gossett (jr., 6-1, 200), Cameron Prater (sr., 6-0, 220)
Secondary: *Aekins, *Keimare Burnett (sr., 5-8, 175), *Mike Davis (jr., 5-8, 160), *John Motton (jr., 5-10, 185), Don Moore (jr., 5-10, 175),
Kicker: *Austin Snyder (sr.,5-7, 160)
Long snappers: Burke, Ottman
(*Denotes projected starter)