Call him optimistic, but Grove City High football coach Jeff Bell can find positives from last year's 2-8 season.
After an 0-8 start, the Eagles won their final two games.
A large number of underclassmen earned valuable playing experience against superior teams.
And despite that dismal record, a large number of new recruits came out for this year's team.
"Normally, when a team has a tough season like we did, you have a tough time getting people to come out," Bell said. "In today's society, everybody wants to be on a winner. Nobody wants to be part of a loser. We have a lot of kids who are juniors and who are seniors that came out this year with the attitude that 'They need some help. I'm an athlete. I'm going to come out and help the football team.' They may not have the game experience, but we have some athletes."
Bell feels how well the new players and those with experience mesh together early on will be key. That wasn't the case last year.
"The first part of our schedule was very difficult," Bell said. "We lost a close game, the first game, to Meadville. Then we had to face Wilmington and Sharon, two state playoff teams. We were 0-3 with some injuries to our key players and seniors. We didn't have anybody to step up and lead the young players. It took awhile for young kids to step up and assume those roles that we lost."
Gone are 10 starters, including nine who started at least one game on offense. But helping anchor the transition is returning quarterback Mike Bashline, a junior who split time under center last year with the graduated Chad Pratt. Also listed at quarterback are sophomore Joe Ennis and freshman Jimmy Jaskowak.
"The quarterbacks are coming along," Bell said. "That's one position I feel is pretty strong."
Also returning on offense are halfbacks Josh Pratt and Justin Robinson, both juniors. Junior Jason Chiappini moved from tight end to bolster the backfield.
"All of those kids have really been working hard," Bell said.
On the outside, senior split end Jason Patterson and senior tight end Josh Tobias return. They are a part of a deep corps of receivers, but many haven't seen varsity action. Among them are senior Derek Urben and juniors Nick Leone and Tim Stevens.
"We're trying to work ways where we can get more than one on the field at a time," Bell said. "We have a lot of skill people. That enables us to do a little more on offense as far as spreading people out. And it gives us the chance to play some on offense and some on defense because they are athletic kids."
Depth and inexperience on the offensive line are problems, according to Bell. Two starters return in senior guard J. Frank Cook and senior center Mike McKee.
Also vying for action are sophomore guard Brenden Frisk, junior tackle Bryan Mullins, senior Dustin Hilliard and 6-4, 225-pound freshman tackle Kent Uber. Freshman Tony Aloisio, a 6-5, 320-pounder could also see action.
"Right now it's getting kids in and out of there and putting a group together that can do the job," Bell said.
Bolstering the defensive line is sophomore Ryan Alger, who despite his small stature will cause problems for opposing lines, Bell said.
"He worked really hard in the weight room over the winter and he put on some weight," Bell said. "We have a tough time running plays against him. It takes two people to block him and if you don't block him with two, he'll cause some trouble."
Despite the loss of second-team All-Mercer County Athletic Conference honoree Tim Dixon, depth at linebacker is a plus, Bell said, because that will allow him to mix things up in his "multiple 40" sets. There are smaller, quick linebackers and others with a little more size.
"Depending on who we're playing will determine who we put in there," Bell said, noting that in the rotation will be Chiappini, Buchanan and sophomore Josh Bowser.
In the secondary, junior Ryan Shoop returns and Pratt is moving from linebacker to safety. Also expected to contribute is senior Kent Peterson, Leone and Derek Isles.
"In the secondary, they're all about the same," Bell said. "We have two secondaries that we could put one in, take those four out, and put another four in and not lose too much."
Once again, Bell feels getting off to a quick start is key.
"We have the same schedule," Bell said. "We start at Meadville then play Wilmington and Sharon and then Hickory. We have to be ready to play right off the bat."
Bell, 18-23 entering his fifth year, is assisted by Don King (defensive coordinator), Kevin Martin (defensive line), Ray Thompson (quarterbacks, defensive backs), Ty Thompson (split ends, defensive backs) and Todd Warner (offensive line).