Following three consecutive playoff appearances, Jonathan Alder had a postseason berth and a share of the Central Buckeye Conference-Kenton Trail Division title on the line entering Week 10 last season.
The Pioneers fell short of both, however, as Springfield Shawnee made a field goal with four seconds remaining to earn a 17-14 victory.
For a program that has made 16 playoff appearances since 1993, the ending to last season impacted the offseason.
Brett Glass, who enters his sixth season as coach, has added former Hilliard Darby assistant Josh Bope as his defensive coordinator.
There are seven players on both sides of the ball who started games last fall when the Pioneers finished 6-4 overall, went 2-2 in the league to tie Shawnee and New Carlisle Tecumseh for second behind Bellefontaine (3-1) and ahead of Springfield Kenton Ridge (1-3) and settled for 12th in Division IV, Region 16.
For players like senior Brayden Blain, going 6-4 "is not going to cut it."
"You play with that chip on our shoulder and put it on the line every play," senior two-way lineman Connor Morgan said. "It doesn't matter how tired you are, you do it for the guys next to you. Everybody has been learning the plays. We've got a few young guys and some experienced guys who are getting us ready for Friday nights."
Two opponents that Jonathan Alder lost to last season, Marysville (35-0) and Bellville Clear Fork (49-10), are not on the schedule this year, but the schedule remains challenging.
Duncan Falls Philo, which the Pioneers open against Aug. 30 on the road, and North Union (Sept. 27), both went 7-3 last season. Two other additions, Bloom-Carroll (Sept. 13) and London (Nov. 1), went 9-3 and 11-2, respectively, and the other four teams in the league finished between 5-5 and 7-3.
Glass is hoping the combination of an experienced cast, the pain that came from last year's finish and the excitement of a new turf field can set up Jonathan Alder for a more successful finish.
"They know the expectations are always to be in the hunt for a league championship and make the playoffs, and the guys are ready to go," Glass said. "There are a lot of really good games on our schedule and we only have four home games, which is kind of a disadvantage, (but) we have a really good senior class and you're always as good as your seniors are, not just physically but leadership-wise."
The Pioneers have a group of experienced skill position players returning, led by junior quarterback J.T. Keith and senior running back Garret Proxmire.
Last season, Keith completed 87 of 157 passes for 1,292 yards with 13 touchdowns and eight interceptions and added 128 yards rushing and three scores, while Proxmire rushed 210 times for 1,369 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Senior Crew Wheeler is expected to see time at fullback and tight end after having a team-leading 24 receptions for 197 yards and three touchdowns.
Senior Jacob Fenik had 17 receptions for 287 yards and one touchdown and senior Dawson Detweiler added 15 receptions for 292 yards and six scores.
Senior Drew Begin also should contribute at running back.
Morgan will be the left tackle and is a returning starter on the offensive line along with senior center Blake Caldwell.
Senior Brayden Blain, juniors Breckin Francis, Kyle Kidd and Alec Schrock and sophomore Andrew McGlaughlin also will see time on the line.
"We had one of the most dominant lines in our league, and running behind that gets you yardage," Proxmire said.
Blain should lead the defense at linebacker after recording 93 tackles last season.
Joining him at that position should be Wheeler, junior Hunter Hardesty and sophomores Chase Maynard and Logan Shafley in a 4-2-5 defensive set.
Morgan should anchor the line at tackle after making 44 tackles, with Kidd as part of a rotation at end after having 23 tackles, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery.
Junior Jackson Izzard returns at cornerback after having three interceptions last season, with Detweiler among a group of others at that position.
Fenik returns at free safety after recording 46 tackles and one forced fumble and senior Cade Keaton should be at strong safety after playing mostly at cornerback last season.
"We have a chance to be pretty good (on defense)," Glass said. "We've got to get a young guy to step up among the linebackers, but there are a lot of guys that played a lot in the secondary. Up front, we need to build some depth."
Jonathan Alder enters the season with an inexperienced kicking game after losing kicker Jackson Welsch and punter Luke Stalnaker to graduation.
Welsch, who made three field goals and 33 extra points a year ago, is expected to be replaced by Dylan Moore, who held that role for the junior varsity last fall.
Detweiler likely will take over the punting duties.
Caldwell will be the long snapper, with Francis doing snaps on field goals and extra points.
Quarterbacks: *J.T. Keith (jr., 5-9, 165), Taber Headings (so., 6-5, 185)
Running backs: *Garret Proxmire (sr., 6-0, 185), Drew Begin (sr., 6-0, 180), Jacob Fenik (sr., 5-10, 180)
Receivers: *Dawson Detweiler (sr., 5-10, 165), *Fenik, *Jackson Izzard (jr., 6-2, 170), Johnny Kaltenbach (sr., 6-5, 215), Jackie Santa Emma (sr., 6-0, 165)
Tight end/H-back: *Crew Wheeler (sr., 6-0, 200)
Linemen: *Blake Caldwell (sr., 6-2, 245), *Connor Morgan (sr., 6-3, 275), Brayden Blain (sr., 6-0, 220), Breckin Francis (jr., 6-2, 225), Kyle Kidd (jr., 6-2, 230), Andrew McGlaughlin (so., 5-1, 235), Alec Schrock (jr., 5-11, 230)
Linemen: *Kidd, *Morgan, *Denver Petersheim (jr., 5-9, 175), Francis, Kaltenbach, McGlaughlin, Schrock
Linebackers: *Blain, *Wheeler, Hunter Hardesty (jr., 6-2, 180), Chase Maynard (so., 5-10, 185), Proxmire, Logan Shafley (so., 6-0, 190)
Secondary: *Begin, *Detweiler, *Fenik, *Izzard, *Cade Keaton (sr., 5-10, 180), Jackson Bennett (so., 6-2, 165), Headings, Will Heisler (so., 6-1, 190), Jonathan Keith (so., 5-11, 150), Tyson Mast (jr., 5-8, 150)
Kicker: *Dylan Moore (jr., 5-9, 190)
Returners: *Detweiler, *Fenik, *Izzard, Proxmire
Long snapper: *Caldwell, Francis
(*Denotes projected starter)