Numbers haven’t been a problem for the Olentangy Liberty football team for a long, long time.
The Patriots almost always have a ton of players. They typically lose a lot each season, but seemingly never have a shortage of newcomers to fill in where their predecessors left off.
Here we go again.
“We lost a lot of seniors last year, so we wanted to transition our guys from JV players to varsity players,” Liberty coach Steve Hale said. “They did a great job with that process in the weight room. Our kids showed great buy-in during the offseason and got stronger and faster.”
That’s not to say the Patriots don’t have a slew of standouts coming back. They do … especially on the defensive side of the ball.
Linemen Troy Mrukowski, Lukę Fleet and Jonah Brinkman are all back. Gabe Pence and Bryce Byrd return at linebacker and Nate Maag will anchor the secondary at free safety.
Byrd had 44 tackles to go with a sack and forced fumble last fall while Pence is back after collecting 58 tackles, six tackles for loss, three sacks and two forced fumbles.
Returners on the offensive side of the ball include receivers Alex Okuley and Evan Nelson. The quarterback position, Hale said, is still up for grabs.
Newcomers who could contribute right away include Jake Barcus (wide receiver), Nick Bradley (wide receiver), Jack Kendall (linebacker), Blake Hajjar (defensive back), Wilson Roberts (tight end), Deacon Billy (defensive line) and Conner Anderson (defensive back).
“We look very similar to teams we’ve had in the past,” Hale said. “We have a lot of great kids who understand the importance of hard work and attention to detail. We’ll be a little inexperienced at some positions early on, so we will need to gain experience quickly through our scrimmages.”
The journey to gain that experience will only continue when the regular season kicks off Aug. 19.
Liberty’s schedule, as always, is loaded.
“Our schedule — and league — is incredibly challenging,” Hale said. “We believe the best way to improve is to constantly challenge ourselves … our schedule has many great challenges on it.”
Liberty opens by traveling to Pickerington Central in Week 1. The Patriots then host Glenville, Cincinnati St. Xavier, Olentangy Berlin and New Albany to smooth out the non-league portion of their schedule.
Keep in mind St. Xavier and Pickerington Central met in two of the last three Division I state championship games.
After that, the Patriots have the always-loaded OCC-Central Division to look forward to with teams like Dublin Coffman, Hilliard Bradley, Hilliard Davidson, Olentangy Orange and defending champ Upper Arlington.