Last season wasn’t a whole lot of fun for the Delaware Hayes football team.
“I’m just glad that last year is over,” Pacer coach Scott Wetzel said. “Missing so much of the offseason lifting, not knowing if we were going to get shut down, seeing our starting quarterback leave the week before our first game … I’m ready to move on.”
Fortunately, this season is shaping up to be a much better one.
The offseason — complete with in-person workouts — has been relatively normal, the concern of getting shut down isn’t much more than a distant memory and even the quarterback situation is stable.
The players have been able to, well, play. They’ve also been able to build rapport, which is key for any team.
“The boys are a close group,” Wetzel said. “They want to have success and understand there is a price you pay. We have had great practices and they realize that we must improve each week to be successful.”
Hayes started to find its form late last season. After finishing the league slate 0-6, the Pacers closed out the year 2-2. They picked up wins over Newark and rival Buckeye Valley, and had chances to win the two they lost — a 20-14 setback to Mount Vernon and 17-7 loss at Licking Heights.
The steady stretch run catapulted Hayes into a solid offseason, Wetzel said.
The Pacers are young overall, and the senior class isn’t all that big, but they do have a handful of returners.
Quarterback Austin Dowell is back under center while running back Armon Weaver returns for his senior season as well. Dowell completed 78 of his 155 passes for 821 yards while Weaver had 25 carries for 322 yards a season ago.
Offensive linemen Lucas McKeen and Isaac Wheeler also return on the offensive side of the ball.
Defensive back Xavier Weaver, who had two interceptions in 2020, will anchor the secondary while linebackers Andon Wheeler and Toby Bohrer return after combining for 68 tackles last fall. Lineman Dalton Allen returns up front as well.
Other possible starters include receivers Wyatt Kirtland and Kaden Gannon, running backs Sawyer Sand and Elijah Burton, offensive linemen Ian Browning, Conner Dutton, Tavis Robison and Tony Napier, defensive linemen Erik Wells, Brian Beal and Devin Wesley, linebackers Logan Frye, Frank Mlckovsky and Lucas Dotson and defensive backs Aidan Pili, Nikeese McCollum and Jaliq Wilson.
The Pacers will open 2021 with their usual rivalry game against the visiting Barons Aug. 20. The showdown was moved to the final week of the season due to COVID-19 concerns a year ago.
After BV, Hayes will host Marion-Franklin and Westland Aug. 27 and Sept. 3, respectively, to smooth out its non-league slate.
The Pacers start with four straight home games, including the league opener Sept. 10 against Big Walnut.
After that, they close with four of their last six on the road. They’ll travel to Westerville North Sept. 17 before hosting Worthington Kilbourne Sept. 24. They then hit the road for back-to-back away games at Westerville South (Oct. 1) and Dublin Scioto (Oct. 8) before hosting Canal Winchester (Oct. 15) and traveling to Franklin Heights (Oct. 22) in the regular-season finale.
“The Capital Division is solid,” Wetzel said. “Westerville South and Big Walnut should be the top two teams. South’s Kaden Saunders and Canal’s Stephan Byrd are two of the best players in the state.”