2013 record: 5-6 (4-5 Clarence Cannon Conference)
Coach: Scott Murdock (5-6 at Clark County, second season)
Assistant coaches: David Melton, Ethan Allen, Caleb Arnsman, Tony McKee, Jacob Nance.
Returning starters: Offense -- RB Jacob Trump, Sr.; WR Derreck Fowler, Sr.; WR Shaw Hunziker, Jr.; RB/WR Thayden Cline, Jr.; WR Adam Conners, Jr.; OL Braydon Kirchner, Jr.;
Defense -- LB Colin McKee, Sr.; DB Brayton Prewitt, Jr.; CB Brendahn Boatman, Jr.; CB Carson Hunziker, Jr.; LB Trump; LB Cline; LB S. Hunziker
New faces: OL/DL John Corvaia, Sr.
Key losses: QB Jayvin Ray, OL Philip Mason, DL Tyler Brammer.
Outlook: How many times will Trump touch the ball? If the Indians are going to be successful offensively, he'll tote it more than anyone else. Trump is coming off a season in which he rushed for 1,231 yards and 12 touchdowns while averaging 6.8 yards per carry. Although he'll be the focal point of the offense and the target of opposing defenses, don't expect the Indians to shy away from giving him the ball.
It helps having faith in the offensive line despite its youth. Kirchner is the lone returning starter up front, but Bethel is expected to see substantial playing time. He is one of only three senior linemen on the roster. So developing depth in that group is critical.
Defensively, the Indians feature a defensive backfield adept at breaking up passes -- Prewitt had six pass deflections last season -- as well as stopping the run. With so much experience returning at linebacker as well, Clark County is expecting to improve on the 28 points and 250 yards rushing it allowed per game last season.
"The big thing is execution," Murdock said. "If we can execute the gameplan, we can be successful."
2013 record: 1-9 (1-8 Clarence Cannon Conference)
Coach: Mason Swisher (first season at Highland)
Assistant coaches: Shannon Haerr, Nathan Cabot, Kyle Ellison.
Returning starters: Offense -- QB Austin Richmiller, 6-4, 210, Sr.; OG Greg Chillion, 5-11, 220, Sr.; WR Dalton Sparks, 5-11, 180, Sr.; RB Rickey Washington, 5-11, 190, Jr.
Defense -- LB Chillion; DB Sparks; LB Washington
New faces: WR/DB Andrew Schultz, 5-11, 180, So.; OL/DL Colt Jennings, 5-11, 220, So.; OL/DL Tony Shaffer, 6-4, 280, Jr.; WR/DB Fernando Murphy, 5-9, 160, Jr.; RB/LB Dustin Wakefield, 5-11, 190, Jr.; WR/DB Derek Garner, 5-9, 160, Jr.; TE/DL Nathan Mittelberg, 6-2, 190, Jr.; WR/DB Blake Hetzler, 6-1, 180, Jr.
Key losses: OL/DL Garrett Gray, WR/DB Laine Sly, RB/LB Wes Cramsey, OL/DL Alex Nunn.
Outlook: The schedule does the Cougars no favors as they open with three of the CCC heavyweights in succession -- Centralia, Brookfield and Palmyra. Survive that stretch healthy and Highland could be much improved by the time districts begin.
It all depends on how a youthful roster develops. Swisher expects sophomores like Schultz and Jennings to see significant time and there are a handful of juniors ready to step in as skill positions and make an impact. What the Cougars need are linemen to develop quickly.
"The team will be young overall," Swisher said. "We will count on a number of first-year starters to play and provide depth."
Swisher, who replaced Kenny Grubb as head coach in July, worked on the staffs at Culver-Stockton College and Quincy University, serving as defensive coordinator both places. He also worked as the special teams coach at QU before being promoted to coordinator, and he brings a defensive mentality to Highland. He's placed an emphasis on being hard-hitting and aggressive.
2013 record: 2-8 (Clarence Cannon Conference)
Coach: Greg Purdum (2-8 at Louisiana, second season; 94-98 overall)
Assistant coaches: Ryan Griffin, Tommy Fallert, Chris Booth, Tim Jenkins, Derek Branstetter, Matt Smith
Offense: Multiple Pro I
Defense: Bear 46
Returning starters: Offense -- QB Zach Richardson, 5-11, 160, Jr.; WR Elijah Oblinger, 5-10, 160, Sr.; OL/TE Dylan Noah, 6-0, 200, Jr.; RB Lane Rule, 5-11, 180, Jr.; FB Dallas Castagna, 5-10, 175, Sr.; RB Cody Brown, 5-8, 155, Sr.; OL Hank Calvin, 5-10, 220, Sr.; OL Michael Davis, 6-0, 235, Jr.; OL Collin Stark, 6-3, 240, Sr.; TE Spencer Brown, 5-9, 165, Sr.; OL Davan Lindsay, 5-11, 220, Jr.
Defense -- FS Gabe Henderson, 5-11, 145, So.; CB Oblinger; LB Dylan Noah, 5-11, 200, Jr.; LB Rule; LB Castagna; DL Brown; DL Calvin; LB Davis; DL Cameron Alspaw, 6-3, 225, So.; DL Lindsay
New faces: FB/LB Cameron Lindsay, 5-11, 175, Sr.; DL Austin Niffen, 5-8, 215, Jr.; WR/DB Taybren Campbell, 5-10, 160, Jr.
Key losses: None listed.
Outlook: No team is better suited to make a sizable improvement than Louisiana. Purdum and his staff were able to establish their system last season, build on it throughout the offseason and come into practice this fall ready to put the Bulldogs to the test.
So far, the Bulldogs have answered the call with crisp execution and determination.
"From the first day to the end of (last) season, there was a night-to-day improvement made," Purdum said. "Starting with attitudes to the basic fundamentals that were taught, it was outstanding. We know have a solid foundation to build on."
And a leader to show the way. Richardson earned academic all-state honors last season and truly has grasped the offense and understands how to run the option. He might be a better runner than passer at this point, but with Oblinger and others catching the ball, the passing game will improve. It also helps having Stark, a second-team All-CCC pick, and four other linemen returning to provide protection and set up running lanes for Rule and Castagna.
"Being able to start the season with more than the basic playbook is huge," Purdum said.
So is having more bodies. There are 27 upperclassmen on the roster, meaning not as many players will be forced to go both ways. That should help a defense that allowed 263.3 yards rushing per game last season.
"The biggest thing we see is the huge improvement in our fundamental defensive skills," Purdum said.
2013 record: 3-7 (3-6, Clarence Cannon Conference)
Coach: David Kirby (3-7 at Monroe City, second season)
Assistant coaches: Jamar White, Brock Edris, Derek Vanlandingham
Returning starters: Offense -- OL Zach Benson, 6-2, 220, Sr.; OL Tyler Pugh, 6-0, 215, Sr.; OL Alex Falls, 6-0, 180, Sr.; OL J.D. Brown, 6-0, 185, Sr.; OL Caleb Fuller, 6-2. 275, Sr.; FB Tariq Garner, 5-10, 180, Sr.; HB Johnathan Shuck, 6-0, 165, Sr.; HB Noah McAfee, 5-9, 160, Jr.
Defense -- DT Benson; NG Pugh; DT Mike Douglas, 6-2, 265, Jr.; DE Falls; DE Brown; LB Garner; DB Shuck; DB McAfee; DB Gage Shively, 5-9, 150, Sr.
New faces: OL/DE Chad Verdier, 6-1, 185, Jr.; OL/DL Keegan McMurdo, 6-0, 205, Jr.; TE/DE Tanner Pugh, 5-11, 165, Jr.; QB/DB Chase Pennewell, 6-2, 180, Jr.; WB/DB Taylon Garner, 5-10, 155, Jr.; QB/DB Brandon Devlin, 5-9, 155, Jr.; OL/LB Josh Underhill, 6-0, 185, So.; TE/LB Michael Speaks, 6-2, 160, So.; FB/LB Logan Minter, 6-1, 200, So.
Key losses: RB/DB Grant O'Bryan, WR/DB Kyle Fulton, TE/DL Dylan Buckman.
Outlook: The Panthers' edge on the rest of the CCC is quite clear -- they have a wealth of experience, especially up front.
Four senior linemen return as two-way starters and both the offensive and defensive lines return intact. That's allowed Kirby and his staff to implement their gameplans and strategies at a quicker pace since most of these players will be three-year starters.
"This experience will allow them to be crisper in their execution of assignment football," Kirby said.
Their assignment will be to open holes for Garner, Shuck and the rest of Monroe City's stable of backs. Garner is a plowhorse at fullback who rushed for more than 1,100 yards last season and earned third-team all-state honors. Garner might be more of a feature back this season with Minter stepping in as the bruising fullback. Shuck's versatility is another reason the coaching staff feels this team is quicker and more athletic.
Defensively, the Panthers have to make strides. They allowed 28 points per game last season and bring back nine starters with a wealth of experience. The defensive backfield should be a bonafide strength with McAfee and Shively two of the better coverage corners in the CCC.
Add it all up and the possibility of a six- or seven-win season exists, especially with Monroe City dropping to Class 1 for the postseason.
"The seniors are a committed group that will be looking to make a name in a tough Clarence Cannon Conference," Kirby said.
2013 record: 12-1 (9-0 Clarence Cannon Conference)
Coach: Kevin Miles (23-10 at Palmyra, fourth season)
Assistant coaches: John Kliewer, Jared Pontius, Adam Gunterman, Marty Smyser, Aaron Johnson, Mark Loman, John Lewis, Brian Meny, Chris Parsons.
Returning starters: Offense -- WR/RB Mason Franklin, 6-0, 155, Sr.
Defense -- DB Skyler Kline, 6-2, 165, Sr.; LB Trevor Wheeler, 6-1, 180, Sr.; DL Matt Frankenbach, 6-4, 220, Jr.
New faces: QB Ben Cheffey, 5-11, 150, Jr.; QB Logan Scholl, 5-10, 160, Jr.; OL/DL Brandon Goellner, 5-10, 175, Sr.; OL/DL Phillip Geisendorfer, 5-10, 215, Sr.; OL/LB Joe Drebes, 6-0, 185, Sr.; OL Tyler Damron, 6-0, 195, Jr.; TE Trevor Nutt, 5-10, 165, Sr.; TE Will Obert, 6-1, 185, Jr.; TE Justin Miller, 6-2, 160, Jr.; WR/DB Miles Kite, 5-11, 185, Sr.; DE Will Jones, 6-2, 165, Sr.
Key losses: QB Brock Butler, RB/DB Caleb Kizer, RB/CB Josh Hultz, OL/DL Mark Hoerr, TE/LB Ben Althoff, LB Case Doyle, WR/CB Jordan Nutt, OL Austin Hightower, LB Matt Hettinger.
Outlook: Most coaches, fans and critics would consider this a rebuilding year following a state quarterfinal appearance. Miles doesn't see it that way.
"We have a really good core group of players coming back," Miles said. "The athletes have a good feeling of what is expected and will be ready to rise to the occasion."
Franklin will see more carries this season as the speed back, while Wheeler is expected to be the power back in the Panthers' dominant running game. Frankenbach will anchor the rebuilt offensive line, and Cheffey and Scholl give Palmyra good options at QB.
Although the face will be entirely new, the offense will look the same.
"This will be our fourth year running this offense and you could really start to see it kick in last year," Miles said. "The players understand what is expected and how to react to different defenses."
Defensively, there won't be many changes either. Frankenbach is a force up front and Wheeler is expected to be tackling machine. Kline has the best size of any defensive back in the CCC and can go get the ball. Finding the pieces to fill in around those special players is the challenge.
"We have gotten much stronger and look forward to having a very stingy defense," Miles said.
2013 record: 7-5 (5-4 Clarence Cannon Conference)
Coach: Rob Wilt (61-28 at South Shelby, eighth season)
Assistant coaches: Curt Bowen, Zack Grassley, Aaron O'Laughlin, Aaron Smoot.
Defense: 4-3, 4-4, 5-3
Returning starters: Offense -- QB Brett Threlkeld, 5-8, 155, Sr.; RB Trace Windsor, 6-0, 175, Sr.; WR Austin Durbin, 6-3, 165, Sr.; OL Ryan Larrick, 6-1, 265, Sr.; OL Sidney Wear, 6-2, 215, Jr.; OL/FB Bryce Fifer, 5-10, 185, Jr.
Defense -- DE Josh Ridgely, 5-9, 175, Sr.; DE Taylor Foster, 5-10, 190, Jr.; DT Larrick; LB Windsor; LB Wear; LB Fifer; DB Threlkeld; DB Durbin.
Other returning letterwinners: OL Nick Mays, 6-1, 190, Sr.;
New faces: LB/DB Sean Bishop, 5-11, 170, Jr.; WR/DB
Outlook: The Cardinals seem to have all the pieces to a championship puzzle.
A stellar running back. A bruising anchor along the offensive line. An experienced quarterback. Stout linebackers who thrive on stopping the run.
So what do the Cardinals have to do to be a serious threat to win a district and possibly march toward the dome?
"If our offensive line can work as a unit, we will be pretty good for a Class 1 team," Wilt said.
That line, with all-stater Larrick setting the tone, will have size and agility. It will need that to spring Windsor, Threlkeld and the rest of the backs. Windsor rushed for 1,362 yards and 15 TDs last season and needs 1,008 yards to become South Shelby's all-time leading rusher. Threlkeld had 1,288 yards of total offense -- 755 rushing and 533 passing -- and was responsible for 19 touchdowns a year ago.
Defensively, with eight starters returning, the Cardinals could be quite stout, especially with Wear and Fifer in the middle.
"We have two middle linebackers that could end up being some of the best I've had since Ethan Dodd (a 2011 graduate)," Wilt said.
Add Ridgely and Foster off the edge and ballhawks like Windsor and Threlkeld in the backfield, defensive coordinator Curt Bowen has a lot of weapons at his disposal.
"Bowen is an aggressive-style defensive coordinator," Wilt said. "I'm looking forward to seeing how this translates into turnovers and big plays by our defense."
-- Matt Schuckman