An increase in roster size and having a full year in a new system are reasons for optimism at Whetstone for second-year coach Tom Jones.
The Braves, who finished last season with 24 players, had 37 on the preseason roster and Jones hopes to add a handful more once school starts.
"Our numbers are much better at this point than they were last year, but the goal isn't just to get kids out, but to retain them through graduation," Jones said. "Ideally, I'd like to get near 45 so we can reinstate the j.v. program.
"It's tough to try to work them all in on Friday nights on the varsity level if they're not ready for it yet. Then that can become a problem in retaining the younger guys who may not develop until they're juniors or seniors. If they're working hard in practices and not seeing the field in game situations until they're juniors or seniors, they aren't being rewarded."
A year ago, Jones was named coach in June and barely had a chance to introduce his schemes before the season began. The Braves finished 3-7 overall and 2-4 in the City League-North Division.
By the time Jones began summer practices, he learned that he had six seniors who were ineligible to play last fall due to grades.
"We've got more guys and that should make us better than we were last year just with that alone," Jones said. "We've got 37 on the roster and hopefully we can go mostly two-platoon. But if we have to rotate, we'll be ready for it because we go into practice with the mindset of not getting a break.
"We're preparing for the worst, but praying for the best. We want to limit our injuries and have everyone prepared to play an entire game just in case they have to do that."
All the players are eligible entering the season and there are eight seniors on the roster, up from just three senior a year ago.
"We have a lot of guys with good grades this year and they're good athletes," Jones said. "We went to a summer camp at Tiffin and the guys really enjoyed that. We've also had great support for one another within the team.
"In the City, there are always transportation problems during the summer. But we've had coaches getting kids rides to practices and we have kids relying on teammates for rides. We've had good turnouts this summer and I couldn't be happier about that. We're moving forward."
Senior Rashaun Broomfield is making the move to receiver from quarterback, where junior Alex Hurd will take over as the starter.
"Alex Hurd gives the offense more threats rather than just having Rashaun scramble around and run back there," Jones said. "Our seniors care more about producing a winning season than themselves as individuals. We have a number of seniors who have switched positions for the betterment of the team."
Broomfield rushed for 741 yards and 11 touchdowns and was 36-for-76 passing for 548 yards with six touchdowns and three interceptions. He was named first-team all-league, as was senior Ben Paugh, who is moving from running back to tackle.
"I'm expecting success and growth from the younger guys and for everybody to step it up this year," Broomfield said. "Last year the young guys were just thrown into the fire. They haven't proved a lot, but I think they're hungry to prove themselves now.
"I'm feeling a difference within the program. We have good energy and more depth. We want to win as many games as we can and have no regrets at the end of the season."
Joining Paugh up front will be senior Anthony Riccio and juniors Zach Falor and Zane Fent. Also in the mix will be Elijah Rhein-Murray and Lucas Waaland and junior Anthony Mirando. Riccio and Fent were second-team all-league.
Juniors Darric McClinton and Khris Watkins-Sellers will share time at running back. Both also play big defensive roles and were special mention all-league a year ago.
Receivers include Broomfield, senior Johney Kincaid, junior Gabe Jordan and sophomore Sallah Abdourahman.
"It's crazy to think that I'm finally a senior and I'm in the position to be a leader," Kincaid said. "It's interesting to see all of the changes that have occurred in the past four years. I think we're definitely more comfortable as a team playing together."
Paugh is a third-year starter at linebacker in the Braves' 3-5 defensive scheme. Also at linebacker will be McClinton, Mirando, Jordan, and Watkins-Sellers. In the secondary are Broomfield, Kincaid and sophomore Felix Prewitt.
Up front will be Riccio and Nutter at ends with Fent at nose tackle, while Rhein-Murray, Waaland and junior Tre Griffin will provide support.
"Our line isn't very big on either side of the ball," Jones said. "But we've got a bunch of 200 pounders who are athletic and strong and can move, and our defense is designed to put quick, athletic guys at linebacker and have our playmakers in the back."
Junior Joren Clem will be the kicker, and Jones said he and his staff were still deciding on the punter and long snapper during the preseason. Potential punters include Broomfield, Jordan and McClinton, while Falor, Griffin and Nutter were in the mix to handle the long snaps.
The Braves also have a number of players who could return kicks, a group that includes Broomfield, McClinton and Jordan.
Quarterback: *Alex Hurd (jr.)
Running backs: Darric McClinton (jr.), Khris Watkins-Sellers (so.)
Receivers: *Sallah Abdourahman (so.), *Rashaun Broomfield (sr.), *Gabe Jordan (jr.), *Johney Kincaid (sr.)
Linemen: *Zach Falor (jr.), Zane Fent (jr.), *Ben Paugh (sr.), Anthony Mirando Jr. (sr.), *Anthony Riccio (s.), Elijah Rhein-Murray (sr.), Lucas Waaland (sr.)
Linemen: *Fent, *Bud Nutter (sr.), *Riccio, Tre Griffin (jr.), Rhein-Murray, Waaland
Linebackers: *McClinton, *Mirando, *Jordan, *Paugh, *Watkins-Sellers, Holden Osbeck (jr.)
Secondary: *Broomfield, *Kincaid (jr.), *Felix Prewitt (so.), Abdourahman, Abdi Hussein (sr.), Ismael Obas Obas
Kicker: *Joren Clem (jr.)
Punters: Mirando, Nutter, Paugh
Returners: Broomfield, Jordan, McClinton
Long snapper: Falor, Griffin, Nutter
(*Denotes projected starter)