Nothing came easy in 2020.
The Olentangy football team, though, despite all the obstacles it needed to navigate, certainly made winning look easy at times.
The Braves, who finished 6-3 overall, won each of their first four games — a stretch culminating in back-to-back wins over league foes Thomas Worthington and Hilliard Darby by a combined score of 80-13. They lost the next two to close out the regular season, but then posted a pair of playoff wins before ultimately falling to Massillon Perry by a slim 14-10 margin in a Division II, Region 7 semifinal.
Several key starters from that team are gone now, including quarterback Kaden Doup, who threw for 1,462 yards to go with 11 touchdowns; Jace Middleton, who led the team with 34 receptions for 464 yards and five TDs; and Landon Johnson, who led Olentangy on the ground with 541 yards and eight touchdowns on 93 carries.
That’ll create a new set of challenges for the Braves this time around, coach Mark Solis said.
“We have 52 kids grades 10-12, so our depth will be a challenge,” he said. “We’ll have a few guys going both ways. We’ll also have some guys playing varsity for the first time.”
That said, Olentangy still has a solid core of returners … and their leadership will be as important as ever.
Returning starters include running backs Mike Parsio and Malik Wade, who combined for nearly 400 yards and a pair of touchdowns on the ground a season ago; receiver Dubby Agudosi, who had nine grabs for 87 yards; and kicker Hayden Olcott, who made three of his four field goal attempts and averaged 40 yards per punt.
Drew Matlak returns to the offensive line, Jeremy Callahan and Angelo McCullom are back to anchor the defensive line and defensive backs Evan Rindlaub and Steffan Somers are also back.
“We have many skilled players in our program and had a pretty good offseason,” Solis said. “I expect all these guys to step up and continue to set the standard we have established.”
The Braves have a tricky non-league slate to work through before setting their sights on the always-competitive OCC-Buckeye Division.
“We have a very challenging schedule, starting with Westerville South,” Solis said. “Our league will be challenging, too. Certainly Marysville, led by Ohio State commit Gabe Powers, will be the team to beat. We expect to compete week in and week out. We have to stay healthy, which we have so far in the pre-season.”
After its home opener Aug. 20 against the Wildcats, Olentangy will head to Chardon for a Week 2 showdown against the Lions of Notre Dame-Cathedral Latin. It’ll then smooth out the non-league portion of its schedule with road games at Lancaster (Sept. 3) and Reynoldsburg (Sept. 17) sandwiching a home game against Olentangy Orange (Sept. 10).
The Braves open league play at Olentangy Berlin (Sept. 24) before hosting Thomas Worthington (Oct. 1) and Hilliard Darby (Oct. 8) in back-to-back weeks. After that, they’ll head to Dublin to take on Jerome (Oct. 15) before rounding out the regular season at home against Marysville (Oct. 22).