GNADENHUTTEN -- Last season was something of a break-out year for Indian Valley High football with a 7-3 regular season record, a Principal's Athletic Conference title and a berth in the OHSAA Division IV State Playoffs.

The challenge now for sixth-year coach Matt Lancaster and his staff is to keep the program improving and replace 16 seniors in the process.

"We lost a lot of good kids from last year's team," Lancaster offered, "so we need kids to step up and fill their shoes. We do return a good core of players on both sides of the ball, but some of them will be seeing their first season of varsity experience this fall.

"Our PAC and non-league schedules are very demanding," the IVHS coach continued, "but we're looking forward to the challenge. Our size and strength should be positives this season. We had a good off-season of work."

Lancaster knows the obstacles to success.

"We will be least experienced on the defensive side of the ball," he said, "so we're hoping on continued improvement day-to-day and week-to-week. That could be the key to our season."

Gone from the 2011 Braves' roster are graduated seniors Florian Kalies, Holden Fellers, Kyle Johnson, Kyle Lehigh, Dusty Byers, Josh Martinell, Dusty Nicholas, Alex Shaffer, Dominic Bell, Steven Reese, Justin Kerns, Josh Schweitzer, Matt Carroll, Robby Anderson, Sam Garmany, Matt Bobzien and Dakota Smith.

Key losses are Fellers, a two-way starter for three years; Byers, with three 'picks' and 576 rushing yards last year; Martinelli, who recorded four sacks last year; Schweitzer, who led an offensive line which rushed for 3,000 yards; and Bell, with 603 yards last fall from the fullback position.

Look for the Braves to use an I-formation offense and a 3-5 defensive scheme this fall.

"Hopefully, the strides we've made over the past few years will instill confidence in our kids to take things a step further," Lancaster said.

The current 60-player roster boasts eight seniors, 13 juniors, 17 sophomores and 22 freshmen.

Returning seniors are Ben Aponik (6-0, 210, OL/DL), Brett Cox (6-3, 195, WR/DB), Brandon Fox (5-9, 195, FB/LB), Andrew Mann (5-10, 175, WR/OLB), Brayden Mitchell (6-2, 200, TE/LB), Jesse Morgan (6-0, 290, OL/DL), Logan Ridgway (5-11, 280, OL/DL) and Austin Western (5-10, 155, WR/DB).

Juniors on the roster are Brady Byers (6-3, 190, QB/DB), Konnor Cool (5-8, 160, WR/OLB/K), Dominic Cottrell (6-1, 165, RB/DL), Matthew Dauch (6-3, 215, OL/DL), Eric Engstrom (5-4, 135, FB/OLB), Trevor Garbrandt (6-1, 233, FB/DL), Michael Hogue (6-0, 288, OL/DL), Jesse Kanter (5-10, 225, OL/DL), Jared Kerns (6-2, 265, OL/DL), Joey Kopp (5-8, 185, OL/DL), Logan Ryan (6-0, 170, WR/RB/OLB), Vince Sunderman (5-9, 130, WR/OLB) and Taylor Grandison (5-3, 120, WR/DB).

Sophomores playing are Brandon Anderson (5-10, 230, OL/DL), Paul Conklin (5-4, 215, OL/DL), Kyle Contini 5-9, 200, TE/LB), Cody Coventry (5-8, 195, OL/DL), Jake Davis (5-9, 210, RB/LB), Jay Elliott (5-8, 140, WR/DB), Tyler Feutz (5-2, 130, FB/OLB), Trevor Kohl (5-9, 175, OL/LB), Will Love (5-7, 155, FB/LB), Mickey Maurer (5-8, 145, WR/DB), Travis Olinger 5-6, 130, WR/DB), Caden McGuire (6-0, 150, QB/DB), Camryn Parrish (5-8, 125, WR/DB), Seth McPeek (5-8, 190, OL/DL), Josh Terry (5-8, 200, OL/DL), Brock Weber (6-0, 240, OL/DL) and Jeremy White (5-7, 140, RB/DB).

Completing the Braves' roster are freshmen Dalton Bolon (509, 140, OL/LB), Colin Border (5-7, 160, OL/OLB), Koby Cool (5-9, 230, OL/DL), Brady Cotsmire (5-10, 140, QB/DB), Ryan Engstrom (5-8, 210, OL/DL), Gene Flynn (5-5, 130, WR/DB), Tyler French (5-6, 170, FB/OLB), Austin Jackson (5-9, 130, WR/DB), Jayden Helter (5-8, 140, WR/DB), Skylar Jeandervin (5-8, 125, WR/DB), Klayton Kerns (5-9, 135, RB/DB), Dresden Korns (5-6, 145, FB/OLB), Alija Lantzer (5-5, 165, OL/OLB), Alec Love (5-9, 140, TE/LB), Ross Love (5-4, 125, RB/DB), Justin Martinelli (5-9, 185, OL/LB), Steven McMullen (5-9, 125, WR/DB), Tobie Myers (5-8, 120, WR/DB), Nate Petrie (5-9, 140, WR/OLB), J.J. Ritenour (5-6, 130, WR/DB), Ryan Strain (5-5, 150, WR/DL) and Brandon Terry (6-0, 205, OL/DL).

Of the returnees, fans will want to keep track of sophomore running back Davis in particular. As a frosh, he tallied 1,444 rushing yards, scored 15 touchdowns and hauled in 11 aerials. He is the Indian Valley record-holder for yards in a season and points in a season (92). He earned post-season honors from the Ohio High School Football Coaches Association Region 11, the Eastern District and the PAC.

Fox led last year's team in tackles with 100 and also had 5 1/2 sacks. He was also named to the OHSFCA Region 11 first team and was a special mention player on the all-Eastern District team.

As a two-way linemen, Ridgeway returns to anchor an offensive line which helped produce more than 3,000 rushing yards. Like several of his 2011 teammates, he also garnered post-season recognition from the Coaches' Association, the Eastern District and the PAC.

See IV, page 20

Other returning letterwinners are seniors Aponik, Mitchell and Mann; juniors Byers, Ryan, Cool, Garbrandt and Hogue; and sophs Contini, Love and Weber.

Of that group, Mitchell and Byers also reaped 2011 post-season kudos.

Lancaster cites Western, Cox, Kopp, Stephens, Anderson, Kerns, McGuire and Helter as promising newcomers who should have an impact this fall.

Assisting Lancaster this season are Jeremey Bolon, Zach Gardner, Aaron Haney, Mark Huston and Chad Peterman. Junior high coaches are Andy Lahmers, Chuck Albaugh, Bill Gilmore and Jake Love.

"The PAC race will be very competitive," Lancaster offered, "with Manchester and Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy expected to field very good teams."

Sandy Valley, Claymont and Garaway will provide non-league opposition as well as the first three contests of the season. The Braves open their season on Friday hosting Sandy Valley.