BEVERLY - The way the 2011 season ended certainly left a bitter taste in the mouths of Fort Frye's players.
After starting 5-2, the Cadets faltered down the stretch, dropping their final three games to Caldwell, Shenandoah and Rosecrans by a combined score of 121-0.
But with a bevy of returnees at the skill positions, along with a slight increase in numbers, fifth-year head coach Eric Huck is optimistic as his team prepares to face River in New Martinsville on Friday night.
''I have a very coachable group,'' Huck said. ''We have our backfield back and many of our skill players back.''
Huck and his staff had plenty of questions heading into camp, but quarterback wasn't one of them.
Chandler Lang (5-foot-10, 160 pounds) returns under center for a second year.
''He passed the ball well last year and ran the ball well last year,'' Huck said of the junior. ''This year, we expect him to be a better passer.
''He will also be better at making decisions. Having that experience will make a big difference.''
Even though the Cadets employ a run-oriented offense, Huck is confident Lang will shine.
''He ran the ball well, but he grew as a passer,'' he said. ''He's learned to not go for the deep ball all the time and take the shorter route that's open.
''He leads by example and works awfully hard in practice.''
Terren Huck (5-9, 141), a sophomore and brother of Eric Huck, and freshman Derek Layton (5-11, 198) will back up Lang.
Spencer Lang (5-10, 155), a senior and Chandler's older brother, holds down a halfback spot. Max Alsbach (5-11, 170), another senior, is an anchor at fullback.
Another option at running back is senior Tyser Shilling (6-1, 178), who is also the starting tight end.
Sophomores Levi Baker (5-10, 150) and Luke Yates (6-0, 171) could also see time in the backfield, along with freshman Tanner Rice (5-11, 142).
Candidates at receiver include seniors Justin Massey (5-11, 152) and first-year player Tyson Riggs (5-10, 150), along with junior Colten Shuster (5-7, 125), Rice, and freshman Devin Waterman (5-11, 130).
''We do have some experience, but we have a lot of younger kids pushing the older guys,'' Eric Huck said.
Senior Dylan Bowman (5-9, 196) returns to the offensive line. He will play tackle this season after player center last fall.
Junior Garrett Hall (5-11, 145) returns at guard, while sophomore Tyler Wittekind (5-8, 172) moves to tackle after playing guard in 2011.
Junior Drew Layton (5-8, 240), brother of Derek, will likely start at center. Top candidate for the other guard spot is sophomore Branden Close (5-7, 157).
Junior C.J. Huck (5-11, 200) and sophomore Sam Bidwell (5-4, 174) are options along the offensive line.
Defensive line has been an area full of questions during camp.
The Layton brothers will likely see plenty of time on the unit, according to Eric Huck, along with Bowman. Yates, Wittekind, Bidwell and Hall are other candidates.
The linebacking corps is a bit more stable with Alsbach returning for his third season at the inside spot. Terren Huck and Shuster could push him for playing time.
Chandler Lang is back at inside linebacker along with Shilling. Baker is an option there, too.
Spencer Lang has started as a defensive back since he was a freshman. Massey, another DB, also has plenty of experience.
Rice, Riggs and Waterman are candidates for safety spots.
Eric Huck is assisted by Brian Kittle, Terry Huck, Sonny Bidwell, Andy Sleek and Bob Hill.