Although it returns just six starters from last season's Division I regional final qualifier, the goals haven't changed at Hilliard Davidson.

Coach Brian White, who is entering his 21st season, says the Wildcats hope to again contend for an OCC-Central Division title and make a deep postseason run in search of their sixth regional championship.

"The goals can't change," White said. "You change your goals and you start to underestimate your opportunities and underestimate what you should or hopefully can be doing. Our goals never change and that is pretty simple, reach your potential."

After missing the Region 3 playoffs in 2017 -- the first time in 10 years -- Davidson returned to the postseason last season, falling to Pickerington Central 20-13 in a regional final.

The Tigers, who lost 28-14 to Cincinnati Colerain in a state semifinal, also beat Davidson 17-14 in overtime during the regular season a year ago.

The Wildcats travel on Sept. 27 to Central, which won its first state title in 2017.

The challenging schedule also includes games against community rivals Hilliard Darby (Sept. 6) and Hilliard Bradley (Sept. 13), Olentangy Liberty (Sept. 20) and long-time league rival Dublin Coffman (Oct. 18).

All four of those teams were playoff qualifiers a year ago, and Liberty advanced to a Division I state semifinal.

The Wildcats also visit Upper Arlington on Oct. 11 to face former longtime assistant Jeremey Scally, who is in his first season as coach of the Golden Bears.

The Wildcats open Aug. 30 against visiting Grove City and begin league play Oct. 4 at home against Central Crossing.

"Everybody is a challenge," said senior left tackle Nick Sands, who is the only returning starter on offense. "Everybody is trying to go after our heads because we're Davidson. We're always circled on their schedules, so we have to take every game full-go every time."

Last season. Davidson went 5-0 in the league to win the program's 17th OCC title.

"In a perfect world, we win the league," White said. "If you can win our league, you're going to make the playoffs. Make the playoffs, win a game in the playoffs and go from there. It all starts with us reaching our potential."

After losing 28 seniors to graduation, Davidson has numerous holes to fill.

"We're not talented enough to worry about anything but ourselves and right now to really worry about anything but the next practice," White said. "We have a lot of experience to figure out how to gain in a very short amount of time. We're just so inexperienced and there's no substitute for it."

The biggest losses are on defense, where Davidson must replace linebackers Evan Annis and Ethan Royer.

Royer had a team-high 132 tackles and was named first-team all-state and district Defensive Player of the Year.

Annis was second on the team in tackles with 121 and was named first-team all-district and second-team all-state, and shared Defensive Player of the Year honors in the OCC-Central with Marysville linebacker Mike Powers and Upper Arlington defensive end Jackson Ness.

A key loss on offense is running back Jordan Hicks, who led the team in rushing with 832 yards and 22 touchdowns on 179 carries and was first-team all-league and honorable mention all-district.

Davidson played the regional final without Annis and Hicks, both of whom were out with concussions. Annis is playing at Valparaiso and Royer at Brown.

OFFENSE

Sands is the only returning starter on offense, and he was first-team all-district and second-team all-state and all-league.

"We're just working every day to get better," Sands said. "We're getting new guys reps, we keep learning new things and just keep chugging along through two-a-days."

Senior Evan Tekancic, who played wide receiver last season, has replaced 2019 graduate Carson Felicetty at quarterback. Felicetty was first-team all-league.

"It's a little weird being a leader because we're used to looking up to everyone else, but now it's all on us," Tekancic said. "We have to take it one game at a time."

Seniors Dylan Bunyak, Nick Dymek and Kristopher Thornton will share time at the important fullback position.

The tailbacks will be junior R.J. Gonzales and sophomores Leo Nixon and Jonathan Weir, with seniors Gage Keys and Dylan Kokoska and junior Kevin Roberts at tight end.

Seniors Paul Dotson and Alex Van Voorhis and junior Aiden DeCarlo are key receivers.

Joining Sands on the line will be seniors Cameron Curry (center), Donovan Ryan (guard) and Paul Koppenhoefer (right tackle), with Curry returning from a knee injury that caused him to miss all of last season.

Juniors Kaden Miller and Owen Savage are expected to see action at the other guard spot.

Despite the turnover in personnel, White said his team won't alter its run-oriented offensive scheme.

"Over the years there's been a lot of people thinking we couldn't win any games with this offense and it's been pretty good for us throughout the years," he said.

"We hope we haven't reached our ceiling in what it allows us to do and we'll keep doing what we do. Hopefully it will keep bringing the success it has in the past."

DEFENSE

Davidson returns five starters on defense, led by Dymek at strong safety, Keys at defensive end, Kokoska at linebacker, senior Bobby Smith at defensive tackle and Van Voorhis at free safety.

Dymek was first-team, Kokoska was second-team and Smith was special mention all-league.

Seniors Nate Shugart, Essa Gul and Yazan Mustafa will share time at nose guard, with seniors Alejandro Tapia and Andrew Woolard at defensive end.

Bunyak will play inside linebacker and Thornton will be an outside linebacker with senior Alex Painter also seeing time at linebacker.

The secondary also features senior Zach Woo and junior Kyle Pepera at cornerback.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Senior Sean Carrier returns to handle the kicking and punting a year after he was named first-team all-league and special mention all-district,

"Sean is the real deal," White said. "He went to a lot of camps this summer. If he's not a Division I kicker, I'll be surprised."

Roberts will handle snaps on field goals and extra point conversions, while Van Voorhis is the long snapper on punts.

Dymek, Van Voorhis and Weir will return punts and kickoffs, with Pepera also returning kickoffs.

THE LINEUP

Offense

Quarterback: *Evan Tekancic (sr., 6-3, 195)

Running backs: Anthony Alatalo (jr., 5-11, 175), Dylan Bunyak (sr., 5-10, 212), Nick Dymek (sr., 6-1, 191), R.J. Gonzales (jr., 6-0, 175), Leo Nixon (jr., 5-8, 165), Kristopher Thornton (sr., 5-10, 180), Jonathan Weir (so., 5-10, 170)

Receivers: *Alex Van Voorhis (sr., 6-1, 185), Aidan DeCarlo (jr., 5-8, 150), Paul Dotson (sr., 6-0, 180)

Tight ends: *Kevin Roberts (jr., 6-3, 207), Gage Keys (sr., 6-6, 255), Dylan Kokoska (sr., 6-2, 220)

Linemen: *Cameron Curry (sr., 5-10, 210), *Paul Koppenhoefer (sr., 6-5, 210), *Nick Sands (sr., 6-2, 225), Kaden Miller (jr., 5-10, 216), Donovan Ryan (sr., 6-4, 220), Owen Savage (jr., 5-8, 227)

Defense

Linemen: *Keys, *Bobby Smith (sr., 5-8, 180), *Alejandro Tapia (sr., 6-4, 244), Essa Gul (sr., 5-10, 210), Yazan Mustafa (sr., 5-9, 207), Nate Shugart (sr., 5-10, 205), Andrew Woollard (sr., 6-2, 195)

Linebackers: *Bunyak, *Kokoska, *Thornton,

Secondary: *Dymek, *Van Voorhis, Alex Painter (sr., 5-7, 155), Kyle Pepera (jr., 6-0, 175), Zach Woo (sr., 5-8, 140)

Special teams

Kicker: *Sean Carrier (sr., 5-11, 182)

Punter: *Carrier

Returners: Dymek, Pepera, Van Voorhis and Weir

Long snappers: *Roberts, *Van Voorhis

(*Denotes projected starter)

fdirenna@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekFrank