WARREN - Coming off a 5-5 record last season and not having qualified for the Division I playoffs since 2006, the Warren G. Harding Raiders have November football on their minds.
Coach D.J. Dota won't allow the staff and players to think that far ahead, but it never hurts to set lofty goals.
"I feel the program is going in the right direction," said Dota, who's entering his third year at the helm. "We're more comfortable and there's more continuity as coaches. The first two years we found out who we are and what we'll be good at. We don't need to explore that anymore."
The Raiders have to settle on a quarterback and then tailor the offense around his skills. The offensive line will be inexperienced, but one thing is certain - it will be big and strong.
The front seven on defense has experience and should be a strength. It will have to be strong when lining up against opponents like St. Ignatius, Massillon, Cardinal Mooney, Euclid and East Cleveland Shaw, each of which qualified for the playoffs last season.
Dota welcomed 24 returning lettermen and 13 returning starters when camp opened.
Senior Jordan Miller has experience, but it was with LaBrae last season. Miller was joined in the competition by junior Mikhail Seawood and senior Chris Zadroski, who had limited time last season. Dota plans to make extensive use of the no-huddle, spread offense, which requires a fast-thinking, talented quarterback.
"We feel good about the position," Dota said. "All three are competitive. They are true quarterback types. They're not just athletic players playing the position. They have good understandings of the game and how to execute the offense."
The Raiders will use one- and two-backs sets. Senior Michael Dorsey figures to get many of the carries, but junior Demond Hymes won't be forgotten. Hymes played considerably late last season and impressed the coaching staff.
Senior Lewellyn Coker also will be in the mix.
Balance will be the key to offensive success. Dota hopes to get off 70 to 80 plays a game, which should mean plenty of work for the ground attack.
"We'll have the type of offense where we'll run a lot of plays," Dota said. "They'll have to be in good shape."
Senior D.J. Williamson leads a group that also includes senior Andrew Zitnik, a transfer from Hubbard, junior Ed Killingsworth, junior Jimmy May, senior Carlton Wilson, junior Trevor Ishee and senior Davion Rogers. Williamson had 35 receptions for slightly more than 600 yards last season on an offense that struggled through the air.
"I feel really good there," Dota said. "This is a solid group of receivers. Any of those guys can play for us."
Williamson and Wilson will cause defenses problems with their speed.
Senior Marvin Logan figures to be the primary tight end. Senior Scott Manusakis shared time with Logan last season. Senior O'neal Brown will try to earn time, as will senior Justin Giar, who missed all of last season after breaking his arm throwing a ball in practice.
Dota admits that this is an area he has to worry about the most, but he doesn't seem overly concerned. Four starters from last season graduated, meaning plenty of new faces and the usual period of adjustment for an area that requires the coordinated efforts of all five.
Senior Kenny Jackson returns at guard. Senior Clark Thompson should be the center, and senior Roman Eldridge is the other guard. Tackle candidates are senior Santiago Mason, junior Ian Folmer, junior Andrew Hampton and junior Draye Luton.
One of the best things about the group is its collective size - Jackson (260), Thompson (295), Eldridge (270), Mason (300) and Folmar (365).
Dota likes the potential of this group because of its experience. Mason, Thompson and junior Dominique Scrivens all played last season at tackle. Mason and Thompson have played since their sophomore seasons. Returning at the end spots are Logan and senior Aaron Wilson. Brown also logged time at end in 2008.
"They're big, and they all have experience," Dota said.
Rogers was the starter on the strong side last season, and Coker returns as the starter in the middle. Seawood was on the weak side last season, but he missed three weeks with an injury.
The return of Giar, who started 10 games as a sophomore on the strong side, will be a plus. Hymes will back up Coker. Manusakis was used last season in a utility role.
This group has speed and aggressiveness and should develop into a strength. Experience across the board is important.
The secondary will be anchored by returning starter Jordan Owens, a senior, at one cornerback spot, and Dorsey at strong safety. Dorsey won't come off the field on defense, which could limit his time on the offensive side.
May, Wilson, senior Deen Franklin and Williamson are contending to start at the other corner. Junior K'Von Williams plays strong safety. Zitnik and junior Alex Polenick round out the secondary as free safeties.
Dota admits that the secondary could be a concern. Having Dorsey and Owens back eases that concern somewhat.
The kicking game is an area Dota said needed developed when camp opened.
"That's a spot we have to find someone who can kick off and handle extra points," Dota said. "I think we'll be okay."
Junior soccer player Moses Sosa, who moved into the area from Venezuela last year, has a good shot to win the kicking competition. Senior Mitchell Lloyd kicked as a sophomore. Others with kicking experience are Hymes and DaQuindol Lewis.
Zadroski handled punting duties last season. Lewis also can be used as a punter.