Since winning the Division III state championship in 2010, Watterson has put together just two winning seasons, made the playoffs only twice and gone through a coaching change.

But last season was a step back in the right direction for a program that has an overall winning percentage of .673 since its first season in 1956.

The end of last year, in particular, sent the Eagles into the offseason on a high note.

Watterson beat St. Charles 37-6 and Logan 14-0, then snapped a five-game losing streak against DeSales with a 21-14 victory in coach Brian Kennedy's second season.

The improvement from a 2-8 finish in 2017 to 5-5 occurred despite the program having just nine seniors.

There are only nine seniors in the 2020 class as well, but a 19-member junior class featuring numerous players with varsity experience could be enough to continue the progression.

"We started a lot of young guys last year," Kennedy said. "The experience more than anything helps us going into this year. This is my third year here and their third year of the system, so it's nice talking terminology and schemes. We don't have to go slow but can just go right into it."

Watterson opened last season by winning two of its first three, including a 17-14 victory over eventual Division I playoff qualifier Olentangy Orange in Week 2, but endured a four-game losing streak that eliminated it from playoff contention in Division III, Region 11.

Included in the losing stretch were a 17-14 loss to Cleveland Benedictine and a 24-21 setback to Youngstown Ursuline, which finished 1-9.

Turning those tight losses into wins while facing another challenging schedule is the task at hand for the Eagles, who finished as runner-up in the CCL at 2-1 behind Hartley (3-0).

In addition to opening Aug. 30 at Lancaster, which went 6-4 and was a co-champion in the OCC-Ohio Division, Watterson plays its home opener Sept. 6 against Maria Stein Marion Local, last year's Division VI state runner-up which is now in Division VII.

It also must travel on Sept. 27 to Dayton Chaminade Julienne, a Division III playoff qualifier last season, and on Oct. 4 to DeSales.

Watterson is playing only four home games, all of which will be held at Ohio Dominican.

"We didn't have a (junior varsity) team our sophomore year, so (last year) was our first real experience," senior Thomas Bair said. "(Last season has) definitely raised the expectations because we've seen we can do it. At the beginning of last year we beat Orange and then went on a losing streak, but towards the end we put it together."

OFFENSE

Bair was among the offensive players to emerge last season at running back, as he finished with 772 yards and seven touchdowns on 163 carries and added 31 receptions for 359 yards and two scores.

Junior Jake Hoying returns at quarterback after completing 126 of 198 passes for 1,313 yards with nine touchdowns and seven interceptions before going down with a season-ending broken collarbone against Ursuline in Week 7. Hoying is the son of former Ohio State and NFL quarterback Bobby Hoying.

Expected to lead the receiving corps are juniors Andrew

Bettendorf (28 receptions for 388 yards, 2 TDs) and Tyler Young (15 receptions for 202 yards, 1 TD), along with junior tight end Davis Boone (34 receptions for 301 yards, 4 TDs).

Junior Cam Nickelson, a transfer from Dublin Scioto who is only eligible for the first five games, also should contribute at running back.

Seniors Mason Graney (left tackle), Patrick Jesse (left guard) and Isaiah Manuel (right guard) are returning starters on the offensive line.

Senior Chris Crane has moved from tight end to right tackle, and either junior Alex Altier or junior Matthew Johnson will be at center.

"We're athletic but we're not very big," Kennedy said. "With what we do, we're not a power team and Jake does a really good job of reading the defense and getting the ball out quick. We're three-step and get the ball out. We've got a bunch of good kids who are going to work hard and fit in with what we want to do."

DEFENSE

Kennedy is pleased with the depth in the secondary, where Young will lead the way at cornerback after finishing with 34 tackles and five pass breakups.

Nickelson and Bettendorf also should see time at cornerback along with junior Henry Blevins, a lacrosse player for the Eagles who last played football as a freshman.

Junior Sam Intihar and sophomore Dominic Orsini are at safety.

Senior Evan Siegel returns at defensive end after finishing with 2.5 tackles for loss, with Manuel expected to be at nose tackle and Graney at the other end spot in a 3-4 set.

Junior Nick Youell finished with 26 tackles at linebacker and should be one of the outside linebackers after adding 20 pounds of muscle

in the offseason, with Bair and Boone both also expected to see time

there.

Junior Tanner Mercer, sophomore Brady White and Crane should play at inside linebacker.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Young is "probably the most athletic kid we've got" according to Kennedy and figures to be one of the fixtures on the return team along with Intihar and Nickelson.

Senior Jonah Fortkamp returns at kicker after having 80 percent of his kickoffs end in touchbacks. He also made 15 extra points and two field goals and figures to return at punter after averaging nearly 34 yards.

THE LINEUP

Offense

Quarterbacks: *Jake Hoying (jr., 6-1, 195), Dominic Orsini (so., 5-10, 165)

Running backs: *Thomas Bair (sr., 6-0, 195), Cam Nickelson (jr., 5-11, 195), Danny Siegel (so., 5-10, 180)

Receivers: *Andrew Bettendorf (jr., 6-0, 177), *Sam Intihar (jr., 5-11, 160), *Tyler Young (jr., 5-11, 168), Zac Singer (sr., 6-3, 191)

Tight ends: *Davis Boone (jr., 6-3, 225), Brady White (so., 6-1, 197)

Linemen: *Chris Crane (sr., 6-2, 225), *Mason Graney (sr., 6-4, 230), *Patrick Jesse (jr., 6-0, 195), *Isaiah Manuel (sr., 6-2, 250), Alex Altier (jr., 6-0, 220), Matthew Johnson (jr., 6-1, 215)

Defense

Linemen: *Graney, *Manuel, *Evan Siegel (sr., 6-1, 231)

Linebackers: *Crane, *Tanner Mercer (jr., 6-0, 196), *Nick Youell (jr., 6-0, 190), Bair, Boone, White

Secondary: *Bettendorf, *Intihar, *Orsini, *Young, Henry Blevins (jr., 5-10, 165), Nickelson

Special teams

Kicker: *Jonah Fortkamp (sr., 6-0, 180)

Punter: *Fortkamp

Returners: *Young, Intihar, Nickelson

Long snapper: *Graney

(*Denotes projected starter)

julrey@thisweeknews.com

@UlreyThisWeek