As much as at any time since Mike Savino became a part of the Hamilton Township program as an assistant coach in 2014 and then as head coach three years later, the Rangers have been stressing staying in shape the past few months.

Savino also has reminded his players about a Hamilton Township team from the 1980s that he has heard called itself the "HT Ironmen" because it had just 13 players.

Although participation numbers haven't been a problem this fall, the Rangers expect most of their starters to go both ways -- and a few to also play special teams -- as they attempt to develop their backups.

"We've got kids back and we've got some studs," Savino said. "We're not as deep as we were in the past and we've talked about that. That's why we stress a different attitude with conditioning. We're not having a shortage of kids, but we've just got to develop a few key alternates (and) until we (do) they'll have to stay in there."

Helping to fuel the team's work ethic is what transpired late last season.

After losing five of their first seven and finishing 4-6 in 2017, the Rangers opened 1-4 last fall before a three-game winning streak that included a 9-8 victory over Teays Valley -- which finished 7-3 -- in Week 8.

A 34-8 victory over Circleville in the final game gave Hamilton Township a 5-5 overall finish, and the Rangers also went 4-2 in the MSL-Buckeye Division to tie Amanda-Clearcreek for third behind co-champions Bloom-Carroll and Teays Valley (5-1 apiece) and ahead of Fairfield Union (2-4), Logan Elm (1-5) and Circleville (0-6).

The Rangers made the playoffs in each of Savino's three seasons as an assistant and are hoping to compete for a postseason spot in their fourth consecutive year in Division III, Region 11.

One thing that could help Hamilton Township's record is a schedule that no longer includes 2018 playoff qualifiers Granville and Whitehall, which each defeated the Rangers a year ago. They've been replaced by Franklin Heights (Aug. 30) and Logan (Nov. 1), which both went 1-9.

"We've been working really hard," senior two-way lineman Gage Blosser said. "Last year people started buying in and we started doing well. This year everybody is buying in. We have a really good chance this year. We've put in some new plays and everybody seems to be clicking a lot more than last year. Everybody's really excited."

OFFENSE

One area in which the Rangers could end up having depth is at quarterback.

Senior Derek Larimer returns after completing 122 of 240 passes for 1,329 yards with 14 touchdowns and 14 interceptions, but junior Brock McGuire was battling with him for the starting job throughout the preseason.

"They're pretty similar," Savino said. "Derek probably carries the ball a little better. Brock is a distributor of the football and makes quick decisions. When the ball needs to be out, it's out."

Also expected to fill key roles are senior running back Jaylan Baldwin, junior running back Josiah Beverly and senior wide receiver Ato Forsen.

Forsen and senior wide receiver Deshan Peart are among the team's top athletes.

Blosser, despite being just 5-foot-11, 190 pounds, should anchor the offensive line at guard along with senior left tackle Dre Stevens and junior center Joe Brobst.

"(Running back) is one of our stronger positions," Savino said. "It kind of did force us to run some more two-back and split-back stuff."

The Rangers lost Drysten Crallie to graduation after he finished with 33 receptions, while senior Kaveon Ross transferred to Walnut Ridge after totaling 42 catches and eight touchdowns.

DEFENSE

The area of the field the Rangers might be strongest in is at linebacker.

Junior Malcolm Denny was special mention all-district and again will be joined at the position by Beverly. Savino also expects sophomore Riley Gibbs to make an impact, and senior Brad Maynard and junior Gavin Tussey should be other key linebackers.

Blosser and Stevens are on the line along with senior two-way starting lineman Creed Tackett, who will start on the inside up front.

Baldwin and Forson are at cornerback, with Peart at free safety.

"Both intangible-wise and athletically, (our linebackers are) some of our top guys on our team," Savino said.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Junior Rich Pickens has been a part of the Rangers' soccer program and is among those competing to handle the kicking duties, and senior Brad Maynard is the returning punter.

Senior Gavin Wilhite is another option at both kicker and punter.

While Blosser is the returning long snapper, most of the kickoff and punt returners will be filling that role extensively for the first time. Baldwin could help fill the hole left by Crallie's graduation, according to Savino.

THE LINEUP

Offense

Quarterbacks: Derek Larimer (sr., 6-1, 175), Brock McGuire (jr., 5-10, 170)

Running backs: *Jaylan Baldwin (sr., 5-11, 180), *Josiah Beverly (jr., 5-10, 215), Brad Maynard (sr., 5-8, 172)

Receivers: *Ato Forsen (sr., 6-0, 180), *Deshan Peart (sr., 6-0, 160)

H-back: *Gavin Tussey (jr., 5-9, 175)

Tight ends: *Malcolm Denny (jr., 6-1, 228), Gavin Wilhite (sr., 5-10, 175)

Linemen: *Gage Blosser (sr., 5-11, 190), *Joe Brobst (jr., 5-9, 285), *Elijah Kraft (jr., 5-11, 240), *Dre Stevens (sr., 6-4, 250), *Creed Tackett (sr., 6-0, 220)

Defense

Linemen: *Blosser, *Stevens, *Tackett, Wilhite

Linebackers: *Beverly, *Denny, *Riley Gibbs (so., 5-11, 190), Maynard, Tussey

Secondary: *Baldwin, *Forsen, *Peart, Larimer

Special teams

Kickers: *Rich Pickens (jr., 6-0, 155), Wilhite

Punters: *Maynard, Wilhite

Returner: *Baldwin

Long snapper: *Blosser

(*Denotes projected starter)

julrey@thisweeknews.com

@UlreyThisWeek