FOSTORIA - The second year of Jim Kelly's tenure at Fostoria begins this fall, but the Redmen's mentor said it seems as if he's starting all over again.
The reasons vary from the late start he got in 2012 to the holes left by graduation, leading to a lot more instruction instead of tweaking now.
"The first thing we did this year, when I brought all the coaches in, I said, 'This is a lot about teaching.' In some ways, it's almost like it's Year One for us because last year, getting hired in so late, it was hard to develop relationships with the seniors because some of them I didn't see until the first day," Kelly said.
"We don't have a lot of letterwinners; we have a few," he said. "What we graduated were guys who'd played a lot of varsity football."
Fostoria lost 17 players to graduation last year and only return 10 veterans this fall, leaving plenty of spots to be filled.
And chances are, youth will help do that since the 46-man team has eight sophomores - including two letterwinners - and 18 freshmen.
|Head coach: Jim Kelly, second season.|
|2012: 0-10, 0-7 NBC.|
|Assistant coaches: Ray Tittle, Jeremy Robbins, Sam Meek, Dante Johnson, Paul Shoemaker, Julian Magallanes, Bryan Bernal, Shane Parsons, Jon Ottney, Doug Shaver.|
|Sept. 6||at Bowling Green|
|Sept. 13||at Sandusky Perkins|
|Sept. 20||at Elmwood|
|Oct. 4||at Genoa|
|Oct. 18||at Woodmore|
"We're young, there's no question about that," Kelly said.
And in search of a win.
The Redmen (0-10, 0-7 Northern Buckeye Conference) haven't won since beating Rossford 30-21 in the 2011 season finale, and last year was a constant struggle.
The Redmen only scored two or more touchdowns in a game twice. Only two losses were by 15 or fewer points - 22-7 to Otsego and 14-6 to Elmwood - with the Redmen getting shut out three times. Opponents beat Fostoria by an average of 46.4-7.9.
Changing that momentum will be key, Kelly said, adding that wins won't come easily.
Fostoria hasn't beaten perennial power Ottawa-Glandorf since the opening game of the 2008 season and the last win over Bowling Green came in 2009. Week 3 opponent Sandusky Perkins, a newcomer to the FHS schedule, was edged by a point in last year's Division III regional semifinals by eventual state runner-up Bellevue.
After that comes the NBC portion of the schedule, and Fostoria has yet to beat either Genoa or Eastwood since the conference began in 2011.
"The biggest hurdle will just be getting that first win, and if they don't win at first, how do you handle defeat and getting back on the horse, so to speak," Kelly said. "That's where us as coaches come in and keep the focus because it's a long season and we expect to compete at a high level all the time around here."
Getting there means changing the team's identity into a physical squad, Kelly said, starting on offense.
Last year's team started as a spread team because of its personnel, but injuries and other situations led to the Redmen being more run-oriented near the end of the season.
This fall, the spread is out and the "I" and a full-house backfield are in. That doesn't mean the Redmen won't throw, just that they plan to set it up more, Kelly said.
"We've got to be able to run the ball. We've got to be able to be physical off the snap, run the football. If we can run the ball well, then it opens up things in the passing game. But we have to cater to our strengths, and we have a lot of running backs; on the team, we've got twenty-five offensive linemen," Kelly said. "We've got to ... be able to identify ourselves with being a physically strong and physical football team, and that starts with running the football."
And that should help junior veteran quarterback Dom Fuller as he faces competition from junior Rayshawn Yarn and freshman Jayden Stanton, Kelly said.
"I think the thing for him that's going to help us a lot is when we run the ball, it takes a lot of pressure off him having to think to throw the ball, which he struggled with [last year]," Kelly said. "Play action is the best friend of guys who have struggled throwing the ball."
Other letterwinners are back in key positions, but there are holes to fill.
"Offensive line will probably be the biggest one," Kelly said.
"We've got some guys that have some experience - a little, and some have more - but it's still going to be kind of a work in progress up front," he said.
The offensive line features the return of junior center Isaiah Brough, senior tackle Deante Lincoln, and the sophomore combination of guard Brystan Baeder and tackle Micah Randall.
Senior Keegan Green and juniors J.J. Fuller and Alex Navarro all return as fullbacks, with junior Deandre Cannon and junior Juan Mendez at receiver.
They'll all show up on defense in what Kelly calls the Fostoria 50.
The odd front should compliment the Redmen's more aggressive approach this year, he said.
"We're going to be attacking, aggressive. We're going to tackle, we're going to fill [running lanes]," he said. "That's a change from last year when we were predominately a 4-3 defense."
Lincoln and Brough will lineup at tackle and Randall will man one of the end spots.
Baeder, Navarro, J.J. Fuller and Green will take turns at linebacker, with Cannon and Dom Fuller playing corner and Mendez lining up at strong safety.
The other positions are still up for grabs. But whoever plays where, Kelly said he and the Redmen - especially the juniors - expect a change in fortune.
"The psyche of the team's great, especially the juniors. Those guys have really bought into the fact that, No. 1, they're Redmen and what's expected around here and what hasn't happened for a while and now they want to help change it," Kelly said.
"They psyche for them is, they're up for the challenge. They know it's a tough schedule, but they look at this like they have two years left in this thing 'cause they do," he said. "Everything we do this year, whether it's how we want it [to end] or not, it's working for the goal, which is next year's as well, and it's to compete and try and win our league."