As Rick Rios begins his second season as coach at Westland, he points to a strong offseason as a main reason for his optimism.
The Cougars finished 1-9 overall in Rios' first season, but with that recommitment along with the return of several key players, Rios believes his team will be improved.
"I thought we had one of the best offseasons I've ever been a part of since I started coaching," Rios said. "As far as the weight room, the attitude shift and the kids really understanding the expectations. It's been really good so far."
Westland begins the season with three road games, starting Aug. 30 at Licking Heights.
The Cougars open their OCC-Central Division schedule Oct. 4 against visiting Upper Arlington.
Westland, which went 0-5 in the league last season, has lost 20 consecutive OCC games dating back to a 35-7 victory over Thomas Worthington on Sept. 24, 2015.
The schedule includes contests with South-Western City Schools rivals Franklin Heights on Sept. 20 and Central Crossing on Oct. 18.
Westland defeated Franklin Heights 38-7 last season for Rios' first win with the program. The Cougars lost 31-20 to Central Crossing to fall to 0-10 in the series, and the teams meet Oct. 18 at Westland.
"We really have high expectations for ourselves," Rios said. "I know most people don't think much of what we're doing or what's going to happen here, but we really have high expectations for this group."
A key loss was quarterback DeShawn Evans, who completed 160 of 307 passes for 1,851 yards with 17 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. A first-team all-league and second-team all-district honoree in Division I, Evans is playing at Notre Dame College in South Euclid.
Senior Buddy Workman, who took over at quarterback as a sophomore in week 4 when Evans was lost for the season after suffering a right-ankle injury, is again playing quarterback.
Also gone is Anthony Widen (WR/TE/LB), who had 44 receptions for 571 yards and seven touchdowns and was second-team all-league and special mention all-district.
Isaiah Dukes (WR/LB), another 2019 graduate, had 21 catches for 309 yards and four touchdowns.
Rios said that a competition developed in the preseason for the starting quarterback position between Workman and junior Jason Cooper.
"I'm not afraid to go with either one of them," Rios said. "There's a good chance that they'll both play. Buddy is definitely the explosive guy, but he has made huge strides throwing the football."
Workman, who played wide receiver a year ago, passed for 1,143 yards with five touchdowns and 14 interceptions as a sophomore.
Senior Robert Clark had 59 receptions for 581 yards and four touchdowns and was special mention all-district and honorable mention all-league.
"I'm looking forward to the season," Clark said. "Coach Rios has done a lot of things for us in the weight room. Our attendance as a team has been better and he's nipping everything from the past, all the bad habits that we had."
Senior Kyle Bowles had 15 receptions for 220 yards and one touchdown.
"We're doing really good, better than last season," Bowles said. "The talent is better than last year. ...We talk about goals all the time. We want to be better than last year mentally and physically and just be prepared when it comes to the late fourth quarter."
Senior Peterson Iresne led the ground game, rushing for 626 yards and six touchdowns on 128 carries and was special mention all-league. Senior Johnny Douglas also will play tailback.
The offensive line should again feature senior Aboubakare Dabo at right guard, where he was second-team all-league and honorable mention all-district.
Juniors Payton Hayes (left tackle) and Hayden Hughes (right tackle) return as well, while other key linemen include juniors Colton Bogle (left guard), Rahkim Foster and Ibrahim Kamara (center).
"You don't replace a kid that can sling the rock like (DeShawn), but I think our offense is going to be better," Rios said. "It's going to be more diverse."
Rios said he plans to use a variety of formations on a defense that should be anchored by Dabo and senior Nick Spires at end and senior Jacob Backherms at nose tackle. Foster also will see time on the line.
Douglas and sophomore Jacob Hurley will play inside linebacker, with Clark, Iresne and sophomore Brendan Wiseman at outside linebacker.
Bowles and sophomore Jack Little will play safety, with senior Shaun Fannin and sophomores Mason Bailey and Tim Smith at cornerback. Workman also could see time at cornerback.
Senior Cyril Yankson and junior Kyler Buckner split time at kicker in the preseason, with sophomore Adrian Watkins punting.
Bowles, Clark, Douglas Iresne and freshman Zane Gibbs will return kicks, and Hayes and Wiseman are long snappers.
Quarterbacks: *Buddy Workman (sr., 6-1, 180), Jason Cooper (jr., 5-10, 165)
Running backs: *Peterson Iresne (sr., 5-11, 185), Johnny Douglas (sr., 5-7, 180)
Receivers: *Kyle Bowles (sr., 6-1, 165), *Robert Clark (sr., 6-2, 202), Shaun Fannin (sr., 5-11, 170), Jack Little (so., 5-11, 170)
Linemen: *Colton Bogle (jr., 6-0, 250), *Aboubakare Dabo (sr., 6-0, 275), *Payton Hayes (jr., 6-0, 235), *Hayden Hughes (jr., 6-4, 295), *Ibrahim Kamara (jr., 5-11, 195), Rahkim Foster (jr., 6-0, 245)
Linemen: *Jacob Backherms (sr., 5-10, 215), *Dabo, *Nick Spires (sr., 5-11, 195), Foster
Linebackers: *Clark, *Douglas, *Jacob Hurley (so., 5-8, 165), *Iresne, Brendan Wiseman (so., 5-10, 170)
Secondary: *Bowles, *Fannin, *Jack Little (so., 5-11, 170), Mason Bailey (so., 5-10, 145), Tim Smith (so., 5-8, 145), Workman
Kickers: Kyler Buckner (jr., 5-10, 160), Cyril Yankson (sr., 5-10, 165)
Punter: *Adrian Watkins (so. 5-6, 160)
Returners: Bowles, Clark, Douglas, Zane Gibbs (fr., 5-8, 150), Iresne
Long snappers: Hayes, Wiseman
(*Denotes projected starter)