HANNIBAL - As Mike Flannery scours his River roster, he has a hard time finding a player that won't contribute in some form or fashion.
''I wouldn't trade my guys for anyone,'' said Flannery, entering his 11th season at the helm of his alma mater.
''I know it sounds cliche and stuff like that, but it's a pleasure to coach them because I don't have any off-field issues. Let's just go to practice and do what we have to to do and then I can just go home and concentrate on Xs and Os.
''I don't have to worry about what (the players) are doing at night. That's half the battle nowadays.''
Flannery does have some concerns, however, about how he'll get his players to away games, including Friday's season opener at Fort Frye.
Budget issues, and a failed school levy last November, have resulted in the elimination of athletic busing along with the implementation of a ''pay to participate'' plan for athletes.
''The transportation is more of a concern than the pay to participate,'' Flannery said.
Challenges are nothing new for the Pilots, though. Last year, they played all of their games on the road as construction took place at the high school. Home games were played across the river at Magnolia's Alumni Field.
''We're still dealing with it this year,'' Flannery said. ''We're practicing here at the dam with no locker room facilities. But, it is what it is. You have to deal with it and not dwell on the bad things.''
One season removed from a 7-3 regular season and an Ohio Division VI, Region 23 playoff appearance, Flannery said the Pilots are ready to continue the benchmark of leadership and ethics the 10 members of the Class of 2012-13 helped establish.
''The nine seniors that we have returning picked up on that,'' Flannery said. ''We had a really good winter in the weight room. A lot of the guys on the team are two- and three-sport athletes, so they've hit the weight room pretty good.''
It's paid off. Most notably last month when River won the Shadyside Boosters Big Cat Lineman Challenge.
''That helped set the tone for this season,'' Flannery noted.
The coach pointed to his offensive line as one of the reasons he's so excited about the Pilots' prospects this season.
''It all starts with the center, Brett Rosen (5-foot-9, 198 pounds),'' Flannery said. ''He's the leader of the team and sets the tone for everyone in the weight room.
''Brett, for his size, can go against anybody else in this valley.''
Joining Rosen on the offensive line will be two more returning starters in seniors Dakota Dunn (6-0, 185) and Brandon Reusser (5-11, 183).
''In those those three guys, you have a trio that makes me feel really good,'' Flannery said.
As for the other two starting spots and the unit's depth, Flannery said those holes could be filled by one of River's 12 freshmen.
''This is probably the biggest group of freshmen I've had in my 11 years as head coach,'' he said. ''Out of the 12 freshmen, 10 are linemen.''
Flannery had high praise for freshman Mason Ladyga (6-1, 191). Other rookies in the mix include Tucker Boggs (5-7, 150), Trey Bowers (5-11, 182), Jake Dietrich (5-10, 195), Collin Huffman (5-10, 220), Trey Isaly (5-7, 146), Luke Matusik (5-11, 170), Broc Miracle (5-11, 230), Nick Moffitt (6-1, 150), Cody Saksa (5-9, 175) and Garett Greenlee (6-1, 208).
Sophomore Zac Smith (5-10, 200) will likely split time between tight end and tackle. Classmate Aaron Ingram (5-10, 220) could see time on the line.
Leading the charge from the offensive backfield will be senior Jordan Sapp (5-11, 170), who is coming off a season in which he ran for 816 yards and eight touchdowns.
''He loves football and he's worked tremendously hard,'' Flannery said. ''We call him our mudder. We don't want to see him on a turf field. We want to see him as muddy as possible.''
Sapp will highlight the backfield, along with classmate Bryce Cross (5-11, 170), and his brother, Brok (6-1, 170), a junior.
''I can't say enough about the Cross brothers,'' Flannery said.
Senior Bailey Reusser (5-9, 150), junior Cole Isaly (5-8, 150), and sophomore C.J. Honeycutt (6-0, 170) will provide depth at running back.
''Those running backs will be running backs/receivers,'' Flannery noted. ''They're all interchangeable pieces.
''I don't think we're going to be a smashmouth team like we've been in the past. We're going to be more of a deception-type team with a lot of motion and find ways to get our athletes the football.''
Junior Dylan Ice (5-7, 160) could also see some carries.
Replacing the graduated Cody Caldwell at quarterback will be Flannery's son, Joe (6-2, 160), a sophomore.
What the younger Flannery lacks in experience is made up for by work ethic, according to his dad.
''I understand his limitations,'' Mike Flannery said. ''We're going to ask him to manage a football game for us.''
Receiver targets include seniors Freddie Muntz (6-2, 165), Cody Binni (5-6, 149), Duane Necessary (6-0, 165), juniors Loren Thomas (5-7, 140), Brok Cross (6-1, 170) and Oliver Cummins (6-3, 175), sophomores Craig Hupp (6-0, 170) and Brandon Carpenter (5-9, 135), and freshmen Dakota Smith (5-8, 140) and Braden Whetsell (5-8, 140).
Toby Willis replaces Tim Frye as defensive coordinator.
''I knew going into last season it was going to be Tim's last season with us,'' Flannery said of his longtime friend and coaching counterpart. ''When you lose a coach like Coach Frye it's like losing three or four defensive starters.''
Rosen will anchor the front of Willis' 4-3 unit, along with Dunn and Brandon Reusser.
''So, we're looking for that next guy to step up,'' Flannery said.
Other candidates there include Ingram, Boggs, Bowers, Dietrich, Huffman, Trey Isaly, Ladyga, Matusik, Miracle, Moffitt, Saksa and Greenlee.
Bryce and Brok Cross are slotted in at linebacker, along with Sapp, Binni, Zac Smith, Ice and Cole Isaly.
''We want to create a defense that's aggressive and fast to the ball,'' Flannery said. ''We want to develop a scheme involving a lot of different people and a lot of different looks.''
Working in the defensive backfield will be Mundt, Necessary, Bailey Reusser, Cummins, Thomas, Carpenter, Joe Flannery, Honeycutt, Hupp, Dakota Smith and Whetsell.
Junior Colton Wright (6-1, 155), brother of former River standout Tanner Wright, will handle the placekicking and punting duties.
''We feel like he's a weapon,'' Mike Flannery said. ''I'm not going to say Colton is better than Tanner, but I would hope he is because Tanner has been working with him.
''We feel like if we get inside the 35, he's good.''
In addition to Willis, Flannery will be assisted by Joey Asturi, Eric Rosen, Dean Caldwell, Chris Wisvari, Dave Wright, former Tyler Consolidated head coach Rob Caldwell and Dugan Dietz.
Cody Binni, Bryce Cross, Dakota Dunn, Freddie Muntz, Duane Necessary, Bailey Reusser, Brandon Reusser, Brett Rosen, Jordan Sapp.
Brok Cross, Oliver Cummins, Dylan Ice, Aaron Ingram, Cole Isaly, Loren Thomas, Colton Wright.
Brandon Carpenter, Joe Flannery, C.J. Honeycutt, Craig Hupp, Zac Smith.
Tucker Boggs, Trey Bowers, Jake Dietrich, Garett Greenlee, Collin Huffman, Trey Isaly, Mason Ladyga, Luke Matusik, Broc Miracle, Nick Moffitt, Cody Saksa, Dakota Smith, Braden Whetsell.