PADEN CITY - With just one senior and one junior on the Paden City roster, Wildcats coach Brent Croasmun fully expects his team to take some lumps this season.
The 16-man roster includes six sophomores and eight freshmen.
But the veteran coach looks at the situation in a unique way.
''We are going through a tunnel right now and there is a light at the end of it,'' Croasmun said as he enters his 14th season as coach. ''We have a good young corp of kids and we have 21 on our middle school team which is a high number for us.
''In the next three years, we could possibly have 26 or 27 guys so we see the light at the end of the tunnel. But it is a long tunnel and we have to work our way through it.''
Gone is first team all-stater Taylor Still, who was the leading Small School rusher with 1,632 yards (163.2 per game) and 21 touchdowns.
The tailback was the focal point of the Wildcats offense for much of the past three years.
Replacing Still won't be easy, but Croasmun likes what he has in sophomores Brandon Cross and Craig Allen.
''I really like how Brandon Cross runs the football,'' Croasmun said. ''He isn't quite as fast as Still was, but he is probably stronger. He kind of reminds me of (former Wildcats standout) Wes Cosper. Wes ran with some po-wer and I can see Cross do-ing that. He's been in the weight ro-om a lot so he's a lot stronger and he just loves football, loves the contact.
''Craig Allen is another good athlete that runs well and has good hands.''
Kane Pyles will also see time at running back.
Croasmun would love to have a balanced offense but he is looking more to pass and will have Zach Heasley back under center.
Heasley struggled some as a freshman but Croasmun sees much improvement from his signalcaller.
''He has grown up a whole lot (6-foot-2, 196 po-unds) and has spent a lot of time in the weight ro-om,'' Cro-asmun said. ''He is bigger, a lot stronger, and he still has a lot to learn as far as looking at the defense and learning our pass routes. That is something we have to continue to help him with but the thing about Zach is that I haven't had a kid in the last three or four years that wanted to play quarterback.
''He wants to play quarterback, even though I joke with him that I am going to move him to offensive tackle. We have some kids that can catch the ball so we want to spread the field. If we can't run the ball, we are going to throw it and I think Zach has made a big stride from last year to this year.''
Croasmun is very fond of his receivers in Kennedy Cain (6-5, 160), lone senior Drew Bidwell (5-9, 145) and Deven Price (5-8, 130). Andrew Dennis and Kris Byers will look for some time.
The offensive line was a veteran group last season but will have five new starters this season.
Dakota Gatian will play center, Logan Carroll and Tyler Stackpole will play guard and Denton Thomas and Luke Cooper will be the tackles. Tyler Kiger and Chris Morris will compete for time.
The defense loses some size but gains some quickness. Carroll and Cross will be the leaders at linebacker, while Allen and Pyles will apply pressure from the edges, with Heasley also hovering around the middle of the field.
Cooper, Gatian, and Thomas will line up on the defensive line. In the secondary, Price, Bidwell, and Cain will be the defensive backs.
Heasley will take care of the kicking duties, with Cain also doing some punting.
''There are going to be teams we are going to be able to match up with and have a chance to win, but we are going to struggle at times because of our youth,'' Croasmun said. ''But I really love these kids, love their attitudes. We have some sophomores that played a little bit as freshmen. The good thing is that all these kids are pretty good athletes.''
Assisting Croasmun are Ron Casto, Mike Pierce, and Toby Willis.
The season is being dedicated to Matt Barker, a would-be senior receiver and defensive lineman who passed away in a car accident in July.