PADEN CITY - While lining up his team for individual photos, Paden City coach Brent Croasmun instructed his juniors to line up first, and for the sophomores and freshmen to fall in line behind them.
Then he offered an explanation.
"I did that," Croasmun said, "because we don't have any seniors."
It's certainly an atypical situation but Croasmun is approaching it with his typical "glass half full" philosophy.
"I told our juniors that they are in a unique position," said Croasmun, who is beginning his 31st year as a coach at his alma mater, including 14 as the head coach.
"They have to be leaders this year and they get to do that for two years. Not many players have that opportunity."
The Wildcats, despite a lack of senior (graduated Drew Bidwell was the only senior on last year's 1-9 team) leadership, do return an experienced team, even though numbers are low (19 players).
Junior quarterback Zach Heasley is a three-year starter.
Junior running back Brandon Cross returns after rushing for 900 yards (on 188 carries) and 10 touchdowns last season.
Tackle Denton Thomas (6-foot-1, 272 pounds) is already a three-year starter on the offensive line. Sophomore center Dakota Gatian (5-11, 244) and sophomore guard Logan Carroll (5-11, 170) return to the line and Carroll was the leading tackler last season (with 76) as a freshman.
"We have several returning players who played a lot of football last year," Croasmun said. "We have good athletes at our skilled positions. We have to avoid injuries. That took its toll on us last year. I think if we can avoid injuries we'll be competitive."
Heasley (37 of 80 for 407 yards and four TDs) has started since his freshman year.
"We were in a position two years ago where we didn't really have any upperclassmen who wanted to play quarterback and Zach did," Croasmun said. "So we kind of threw him to the wolves.
"He's getting better. He's a great athlete. He's bigger, stronger and we're hoping he reads defenses better this year. His biggest problem has been throwing into coverage (he had seven interceptions last year) but that is an area he has really worked on in the offseason."
Backing up the 6-3, 205-pound left-hander will be freshman Hayden Hizer and sophomore Devin Price.
Cross (5-11, 180) will again be in the backfield, joined by junior Kane Pyles (32-100-1) at fullback. Sophomore Isaac Hall will back up Pyles and Carroll will get a look in the backfield as well.
Wideouts will be junior Craig Allen, sophomore Andrew Dennis and freshmen Wesley Smith and Even Shreve. Luke Cooper (6-4, 200) has been moved from tackle to tight end.
"We have guys who can make plays and barring injuries we will make our opponent defend the whole field," Croasmun said.
A plethora of players could man the other two line positions, among them Kris Byers (5-7, 141, sophomore), Spencer Billings (6-0, 195, junior), Jacob Forrester (5-7, 160, freshman), Chris Morris (5-4, 140, sophomore) and Dalton Schultheis (5-6, 210, freshman).
On defense, the linebacker unit will be strong, with Carroll, Hall, Allen and Pyles. Cooper and Heasley will be at ends, spelled by Billings, a transfer, and Matthew Greathouse.
Several players are competing for defensive tackle positions, including Thomas, Gatien, Byers, Forrester, Schulttheis and Morris.
Cross will be at safety, flanked by corners Price and Hizer.
"Defense is where we have struggled in the (recent) past because of our inexperience," Croasmun said. "We are older and more experienced now but we still have some growing to do. I like the players we have on defense. If they work together we should be much improved."
Heasley and Cooper will handle the kicking duties, with Heasley also punting.
The school will celebrate Senior Night in its season-finale against Valley but the football team obviously will not be represented.
"I can't remember this happening in my career," Croasmun said. "We have to be the only team in the Ohio Valley without a senior, and we might be the only one in the state."
The Wildcats last went to the playoffs in 2001 but Paden City did win state titles in 1970 and 1979.
Croasmun is assisted by Ron Casto, Mike Pierce, Adam Lemon and Joe Anderson.
The Wildcats kick off the season against Clay-Battelle at 7:30 p.m. Friday.
Craig Allen, Spencer Billings, Brandon Cross, Matthew Greathouse, Zack Heasley, Kane Pyles.
Kris Byers, Logan Carroll, Luke Cooper, Andrew Dennis, Dakota Gatien,Isaac Hall, Chris Morris, Devin Price, Denton Thomas.
Joacob Forrester, Hayden Hizer, Daulton Schultheis, Evan Shreve, Wesley Smith.