The Olentangy football team had the epitome of an up-and-down season last fall.
The Braves never won or lost more than two straight games during any stretch of their 7-6 campaign, but were good when it mattered most, making a deep postseason push before falling to top-seeded Toledo Central Catholic in the Division II, Region 7 championship.
Despite losing quarterback Trent Maddox and top receiver Jake Coleman to graduation — Maddox threw for 2,797 yards and 28 touchdowns, 12 of which went to Coleman — Olentangy had considerable momentum heading into the offseason.
Momentum that was stopped cold by COVID-19 … that is, until the Braves decided not to let it slow them down.
“We didn’t see our kids for three months,” Olentangy coach Mark Solis said. “But we offered workouts to do during the quarantine time virtually and, as soon as we were allowed to see the kids again, they were really excited to get back together.”
The Braves lost some playmakers, but have plenty returning to the fold. Oh yeah, and they return their entire offensive line as well in seniors Toby Wilson, T.J. Gadd, Ethan Wise, Anthony DiMarzo and Jason Feasel.
“Those guys provide depth and a ton of experience,” Solis said. “They’re the biggest strength of our team.”
Olentangy also returns its leading rusher from a season ago in senior Landon Johnson (85 carries for 466 yards and five touchdowns) and a handful of receiving threats in seniors Caleb Gossett (45 grabs for 546 yards and six TDs), Jace Middleton (57 receptions for 856 yards and seven touchdowns) and tight end Ethan Hand (seven grabs for 54 yards).
Junior running back Malik Wade, senior wide receiver Daniel Kelly and senior lineman Nathan Rudawsky are also back.
“Caleb is very explosive with big-play ability,” Solis said. “Same with Jace. Ethan and Nathan are both very physical blockers, Landon is a three-year starter who is strong and Malik is shifty and quick.”
Gossett (defensive back), Middleton (linebacker), Johnson (linebacker), Hand (lineman), Kelly (defensive back), Gadd (lineman) and Feasel (lineman) are also key returners on the defensive side of the ball, as is senior linebacker Brady Ramsey, Solis said.
The Braves’ strength lies in their experience. Not just the number of returners, but the amount of meaningful minutes those returners have played over the course of the last several years.
“The strength with our team is the returning experience and starters on our team,” Solis said. “They’ve played a tough schedule the last couple of years and gained a great amount of playoff experience.
“We also have a heck of a kicker and punter in junior Hayden Olcott. He had a great offseason and will be a weapon for us.”
Depth is a concern, but newcomers Dubby Agudosi (wide receiver/defensive back), Bryce Bendick (wide receiver/linebacker), Angelo McCollum (tight end/defensive lineman), Drew Matlak (lineman), Nick Hartman (lineman), Mike Parsio (running back/linebacker), Evan Rindlaub (running back/defensive back) and Jordan Wilkerson (running back/defensive back) will help with that.
Senior Kaden Doup or sophomore Brady Beaumont will take over at quarterback, the coach said.
A lot of key pieces will be flying around on both sides of the ball, but Solis said he likes his team’s chances as long as those pieces stay healthy.
The Braves are slated to open the regular season on the road Aug. 28 against rival Olentangy Orange. They return home to take on Olentangy Berlin Sept. 4 before squaring off against Thomas Worthington and Hilliard Darby on the road in back-to-back weeks.
Olentangy finishes its six game regular season against visiting Dublin Jerome Sept. 25 and at Marysville Oct. 2.