The Delaware Hayes football team had a heckuva season a year ago.
That season — a 7-4 campaign to get first-year head coach Ryan Montgomery off to a fast start — catapulted the Pacers into a productive summer as the buzz from the program permeated into the community.
“Last season was big for our program and our culture,” Montgomery said. “To have the success we did in year one helps … and it drives the culture we are trying to achieve. When you look at our offseason, you see bigger numbers in the weight room, more players at the junior high and freshman level wanting to play, as well as in our youth leagues, because of the excitement created last year.”
Now, the goal is to build on that excitement … and the Pacers have the pieces to do it.
Offensively, receivers Austin Koslow and Jaliq Wilson headline a veteran group. Koslow, a first-team all-conference, first-team all-district and second-team all-state pick a year ago, returns after collecting 1,092 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns last season. Wilson, meanwhile, had more than 450 yards of his own.
Oh, and they’ll have a familiar face in quarterback Jake Lowman throwing them the ball.
“Jake makes this offense run as the point man … he has the keys to the car,” Montgomery said. “He really understands the offense and can make any throw on the field.”
Lowman, a first-team all-conference and second-team all-district honoree least year, threw for a school-record 2,500-plus yards and 22 touchdowns last fall.
When Hayes isn’t looking to move the ball through the air, it’ll be aggressive on the ground with running backs Josh Russell and Gavin Brinkmoeller back in the fold. The duo combined for 850 yards and five touchdowns a season ago.
Up front, linemen Eion Pavlovich, Izzy Otterbacher, Conner Dutton and Josh Jones all return with valuable varsity experience.
“On offense, we want to be balanced,” Montgomery said. “We’re very skilled and athletic on the outside and in the backfield and, up front, we have a bunch of guys who love the weight room and getting after people.
“We have a lot of experience back and, when you have a quarterback in year two of a system, you can really start to open up the playbook. We’ll attack defenses by taking what they’ll give us and using our scheme to create mismatches.”
The Pacers have a record-breaker returning on defense, too, as Mike linebacker Logan Frye is back after breaking the program’s single-season tackle record — formerly held by Ethan Tucky — with more than 125 last year.
Montgomery said he expects Dutton, in addition to his work on offense, to have a big year anchoring the defensive line.
“Up front, Connor is going to step into the role of playmaker,” he said. “He’s a big, physical and explosive player who has really taken off this summer with multiple Division II offers.”
Tyson Flynn and Jaxson Smith return at linebacker while Jermaine Dukes, Justin Mathews and Brinkmoeller will anchor a slightly-less experienced, but eager secondary.
“On defense, we love the speed that our group has,” Montgomery said. “We’re constantly talking about getting 11 helmets to the football and playing with speed on defense.”
Priority No. 1 will be stopping the run and forcing opposing offenses into tough third-and-long situations.
“We have to look at what the other team does, take that away and make them go to option C or D to beat us,” Montgomery said. “Just like on offense, the defense has been able to diversify and add a few new fronts, schemes and coverages to the playbook in year two.”
The Pacers opened the season with three straight wins last year. They’ll have a chance to get off to a quick start again, with each of their first four games at home.
“We obviously start out with a very big game in Week 1 with our county rival,” Montgomery said. “We put a big emphasis on this game all offseason, in the weight room and on the practice field. We know how important this game is to our school, community and players, and look no further all offseason than Week 1.”
Hayes hosts Marion-Franklin in Week 2 and Mount Vernon in Week 3 before entertaining Big Walnut to open league play on Sept. 8.
“Our conference, year in and year out, is good,” Montgomery said, “with great coaches and players who battle every week. We’re excited to see how we stack up.”
(7-4, 4-3 OCC-Capital)
Aug. 19 — @ Buckeye Valley, W, 28-8
Aug. 26 — vs. St. Charles, W, 17-0
Sept. 2 — @ Mount Vernon, W, 45-10
Sept. 9 — @ Big Walnut, L, 34-14
Sept. 16 — vs. Westerville North, W, 55-34
Sept. 23 — @ Worthington Kilbourne, W, 21-17
Sept. 30 — vs. Westerville South, L, 27-7
Oct. 7 — vs. Dublin Scioto, L, 32-21
Oct. 14 — @ Canal Winchester, W, 10-9
Oct. 21 — vs. Franklin Heights, W, 38-0
Oct. 28 — @ Olentangy Berlin, L, 42-24 (OHSAA Division I playoffs)
Aug. 18 — vs. Buckeye Valley, 7 p.m.
Aug. 25 — vs. Marion-Franklin, 7 p.m.
Sept. 1 — vs. Mount Vernon, 7 p.m.
Sept. 8 — vs. Big Walnut, 7 p.m.
Sept. 15 — @ Westerville North, 7 p.m.
Sept. 22 — vs. Worthington Kilbourne, 7 p.m.
Sept. 29 — @ Westerville South, 7 p.m.
Oct. 6 — @ Dublin Scioto, 7 p.m.
Oct. 13 — vs. Canal Winchester, 7 p.m.
Oct. 20 — @ Franklin Heights, 7 p.m.