Over the past two decades, David Lakso watched from various viewpoints as Marion-Franklin battled for City League-South Division championships and playoff wins.
Lakso, who was named coach in January after Brian Haffele led the program to a 130-35 record with 11 playoff appearances in 14 seasons, was baseball coach at the school from 2003-10. He also coached against the Red Devils during stints as an assistant at Eastmoor Academy, Brookhaven, Beechcroft and Central Crossing.
That background, he believes, makes him a good fit for a program that has been in transition in recent years.
After making Division II state semifinals in both 2009 and 2011, the Red Devils have spent most of their time since then as a Division III program but this fall will compete in Division IV, Region 15 because of a continued drop in enrollment.
Marion-Franklin endured its only losing season under Haffele in 2016 when it went 3-7. It made the playoffs in Division III, Region 11 and finished 8-3 in 2017 before going 7-3 overall while placing third (5-2) in the City-South last fall behind playoff-qualifiers Eastmoor (7-0) and Walnut Ridge (6-1).
Although Lakso sees talent in his junior and senior classes, there are only three freshmen in the program.
"It's going pretty well," he said. "We've got about 34 on the roster. We're really hurting to get a decent scout team together. We want to compete for the City-South championship. There's a lot of tradition around here and our goal is to make the playoffs."
Lakso, who is a teacher at Marion-Franklin, spent the past three seasons as an assistant at Central Crossing under former Brookhaven and Beechcroft coach Trevor White.
The Comets beat the Red Devils 22-20 to open last season, but the teams don't play this fall.
Instead, Marion-Franklin opens Aug. 30 at Granville, which was a Division III playoff qualifier last season. It also plays Division I playoff qualifier Reynoldsburg on Sept. 13 after losing to the Raiders 36-6 last season.
"We have an excellent junior class and a really good senior class," Lakso said. "There are only 200 boys in the building and we were actually only eight away from being Division V. My whole main goal right now is just be healthy because we're real thin, and if we stay healthy we'll be really competitive."
Lakso helped Central Crossing average 30 points last fall while working as offensive coordinator.
One of the changes he has made is moving senior Jeremiah Tucker to quarterback after he was the team's leading receiver with 30 catches for 388 yards last season.
Senior wide receiver Jesse Johnson sees the potential in the move.
"Our offense looks a lot different," Johnson said. "We pass the ball way more. Our quarterback is Jeremiah Tucker, and we've been working together and playing together since sophomore year. The line is real big and they do team bonding a lot so they're real close. Everything has been looking smooth. I'm liking the way things are coming along."
Junior Jaylen Nicholson is the backup quarterback but also likely will start at wide receiver alongside Johnson, with senior Royce Morris and junior Giovanni Scales as other options. Morris is a transfer from Groveport.
Junior Maryon Tolbert will be the H-back in some spread packages.
Senior running back Maleek McIntosh, who rushed for more than 1,300 yards as a sophomore but missed last season was an injury, moved out of the area.
Senior Trent Salters, a move-in from Hamilton Township, and junior Taylen James should get most of the carries, with junior Matt Ward splitting time between fullback and tight end.
Junior Quanaire Tatum should be at left tackle, with sophomore Jaquan Lauderdale at left guard, junior Leviticus Brown at center, junior Lahti Murphy at right guard and senior Breon Scruggs at right tackle.
"The line is big and should be a strength of ours," Lakso said.
Tatum spent much of last season on the line but is expected to be at linebacker this fall, with sophomore Dimir Thomas also at the position and Salters at middle linebacker.
Junior Rickey Anderson and sophomore Chrishawn Adams will be at end, with Brown, Scruggs and Ward all seeing time on the line in a 3-3 stack defensive set.
Scales, Tucker and senior Alonte McKnight all should see action at cornerback, with Johnson at free safety and Nicholson and junior Taylen James also in the mix.
Sophomore Maynor Lucero will take over the kicking duties full time after making 11 extra points while sharing the role last season with 2019 graduate Davion Upchurch.
Lucero also is expected to take over at punter after Upchurch and 2019 graduate Deontae' Wade split that role last fall.
Johnson likely will be among the team's kickoff and punt returners. Anderson and Scales also saw action in that role last season.
Quarterbacks: *Jeremiah Tucker (sr., 5-10, 175), Jaylen Nicholson (jr., 5-11, 180)
Running backs: *Taylen James (jr., 5-11, 184), Trent Salters (sr., 5-11, 184), Matt Ward (jr., 6-2, 256)
Receivers: *Jesse Johnson (sr., 6-0, 178), *Nicholson, Royce Morris (sr., 6-0, 186), Giovanni Scales (jr., 6-1, 172)
Tight end: Rickey Anderson (jr., 6-1, 195), Ward
H-back: Maryon Tolbert (jr., 5-8, 153)
Linemen: *Leviticus Brown (jr., 5-11, 305), *Jaquan Lauderdale (so., 6-4, 287), *Lahti Murphy (jr., 6-1, 275), *Breon Scruggs (sr., 6-2, 273), *Quanaire Tatum (jr., 6-3, 254)
Linemen: *Chrishawn Adams (so., 6-3, 190), *Anderson, *Brown, *Breon Scruggs (sr., 6-2, 273), Lauderdale, Ward
Linebackers: *Salters, *Dimir Thomas (so., 6-1, 240), *Tatum
Secondary: *Johnson, *Nicholson, *Scales, *Tucker, Taylen James (jr., 5-11, 184), Alonte McKnight (sr., 5-9, 152)
Kicker: *Maynor Lucero (so., 5-9, 155)
Punters: *Lucero, Tucker
Returners: *Johnson, Morris, Scales
Long snapper: *Scales
(*Denotes projected starter)