The luster of finishing as the state runner-up in Division V quickly began to fade over the winter as Johnstown-Monroe coach Mike Carter started to prepare for the 2019 season.
Much of the offensive firepower and defensive muscle left the Johnnies following their 49-34 loss to Orrville in the state championship game. However, Carter said it's a similar scenario whether a team reached a state final or failed to qualify for the playoffs.
"We don't compare teams from year to year, and we never have," said Carter, who is in his 18th season. "We put it on each team to accept the challenge on how hard they want to work and how hard they push themselves to be great leaders not only in the school but in the community.
"With that being said, we're doing the same thing we do every year. We want to push them so they will be ready for those opportunities."
Coming off a 13-2 finish that included a second consecutive LCL-Cardinal Division title at 4-0, the Johnnies' offense will need to replace two all-state performers lost to graduation. Running back Bryce Barasch (first-team all-state, district Offensive Player of the Year, league Back of the Year) rushed for 2,265 yards and 27 touchdowns on 349 carries. Quarterback Caden Calhoun (second-team all-state, first-team all-district and all-league) ran for 1,647 yards and 15 scores on 214 carries and completed 26 of 40 passes for 431 yards with four touchdowns and two interceptions.
Also, fullback Luke Myers (second-team all-district, first-team all-league) rushed for 995 yards and 23 scores on 159 carries.
"I think having great tradition and being able to look back on things players have done in the past provide a template and a pathway for the years to follow," Carter said. "Our kids realize hard work does pay off. The more positive attitude that they have and the more positive leadership they can provide will allow good things to happen."
Senior defensive end Stew Davis understands the importance of the program's tradition.
"It was great to be a part of something like that," said Davis, who was special mention all-state and first-team all-district last season. "We have great tradition here at Johnstown, and it's something we want to continue."
Senior Wyatt Walton, a 6-foot-3, 315-pound two-way lineman who has committed to Ohio University, enjoyed the postseason run but knows that success also means opponents take notice.
"We have to stay focused because we have that target on our backs," said Walton, who was second-team all-district and the league's Lineman of the Year. "We have to stay focused and do our jobs and know we are going to have to take care of business every Friday night."
Carter said his players are ready to add to the program's legacy. The Johnnies open Aug. 30 against visiting Big Walnut.
"We try to get a little bit better every day and work as hard as we possibly can," Carter said. "We enjoy the effort and the positive attitude that this group of players have. We have to try to make sure these young men are ready to go out and forge their own identity."
The Johnnies return only four starters in their unbalanced I-formation attack -- Walton, senior guard Hunter Nickell, junior tight end Jake Lusk and junior wide receiver Brandon McConnell.
"Part of the tradition we have as a team is working together," Walton said. "We work hard and we rebuild. We work hard, we work as a team and we have fun."
Carter said the line will be the spark plug for the offense.
"We think the offensive linemen are the heart and soul of our team," he said. "That's our philosophy year in and year out. We push our linemen to make sure they accept that role and become the catalyst for the things we do."
Senior Cole Workman steps in at quarterback after being Calhoun's backup. The backfield will include senior wingback Luke Schlagheck, junior fullback Jaden Jacob and junior tailback Wes Myers.
"We don't try to replace the kids from the past, but we look forward and try to allow these kids to develop their own identities and capitalize on the skill set and strengths that they have," Carter said. "We want to put them in situations to be successful."
Johnstown has five starters returning in its 4-4 defensive scheme, including Lusk (special mention all-state, first-team all-district; 109 tackles, 28 for loss, 18 sacks) and Davis (112 tackles, 36 for loss, 16 sacks) at end.
Workman had 51 tackles and five interceptions at cornerback. McConnell also returns at cornerback, and Schlagheck (96 tackles, 8 for loss) is back at safety.
"Our defense is doing a good job," Carter said. "They are being proficient at reading their keys and they are becoming consistent with developing that skill. They are running fast to the ball and gang-tackling.
"We're excited about the progress that we have made in camp and in two-a-days. We're working very hard to make sure we get better every day."
Freshman Caleb Schneider will handle the kicking duties with Workman serving as punter and Wes Myers doing the long snapping.
Jacobs, sophomore Cody Dingess and freshman Nathan Sheets are expected to return kicks and punts.
Quarterbacks: *Cole Workman (sr., 5-11, 155), Joe Sahr (so., 5-10, 165)
Running backs: *Jaden Jacob (jr., 5-9, 165), *Wes Myers (jr., 5-8, 165), *Luke Schlagheck (sr., 5-8, 170), Malachi Clark (jr., 5-11, 150), Sahr, Caleb Schneider (fr., 6-0, 170)
Receivers: *Brandon McConnell (jr., 6-1, 160), Nathan Sheets (fr., 5-10, 166)
Tight ends: *Jake Lusk (jr., 6-4, 230), Stew Davis (sr., 6-3, 225)
Linemen: *Wesley Cox (jr., 5-9, 240), *Hunter Nickell (sr., 6-3, 190), *Cayden Riggio (so., 5-7, 190), *Adam Thomas (sr., 6-2, 225), *Wyatt Walton (sr., 6-3, 315), Alex Billow (so., 5-9, 220), Robby Young (sr., 5-10, 180)
Linemen: *Cox, *Davis, *Lusk, *Walton, Tyler Dowell (so., 5-11, 195), Riggio, Thomas, Young
Linebackers: *Jacob, *J.T. LaRochelle (so., 6-0, 170), *Myers, *Nickell, Cody Dingess (so., 5-9, 170), Schneider, Sheets
Secondary: *McConnell, *Schlagheck, *Workman, Clark, Sahr
Kickers: *Schneider, Lusk
Punters: *Workman, Schneider
Returners: Dingess, Jacobs, Sheets
Long snappers: *Myers, Lusk
(*Denotes projected starter)