WHEELING - Linsly coach B.J. Depew can definitely see the parallels between this season's team and the 2011 team that finished undefeated.
That perfect Cadets team (10-0) had four members of its offensive line returning to starting positions. This season's team can better that, with all five down linemen returning from last season's 4-6 squad.
Four of the returnees are seniors in center Todd Nickoles (6-foot-4, 260 pounds), guard Austin Whipkey (6-2, 335) and tackles Reno Colaianni (6-1, 210) and Dom Ellis (6-1, 220). The lone junior is Chukwudi Chukwu (6-1, 245).
"When you return an entire line, it really opens the playbook to a whole other level," Depew said. "A really good offensive line can lift an entire offense and allow our younger skill players to get some experience and have some success. That's why we are really excited about having all these guys back this season."
Depew also sees the difference in the 2011 team and this year's squad.
The 10-0 team returned a myriad of offensive skill position players to go along with those returning linemen. This team doesn't have that luxury, having lost a majority of its offense with the graduation of Chinelo Oparanozie, who led the OVAC small schools in rushing with 1,583 yards and 16 touchdowns.
"He had a great year and was probably responsible for 85 percent of our offense," Depew said. "Obviously, those are some big shoes to fill."
Oparanozie not only played in the backfield, but he also moved to Wildcat quarterback when starter Jameson Murray went down with a collarbone injury suffered on the first drive of the Wheeling Central game.
The good news is, Murray does return at quarterback, a welcomed site for Depew and the Cadets.
"After (Murray) went down, we relied a lot on (Oparanozie)," Depew said. "We would like to be more balanced. Murray is an accomplished passer. We would like to be able to throw the ball when we want to rather than throwing only when we have to."
Backing up Murray will be sophomore Erick Taylor and junior Charles Dodd.
And what about that backfield?
There is an Oparanozie back.
As in Chimechi Oparanozie, Chinelo's brother. He is a 5-11, 225-pound block-of-granite junior.
"They are different players," Depew said. "All Chimechi needs is chance to get some reps. He played some fullback last year but was slowed by an ankle injury."
Sophomores Jay Mascara (5-8, 150) and Von Wooding (6-0, 170) will also see action in the backfield.
If the Cadets do decide to throw, receivers will be Zeke Scherich and Zak Kreichbaum, with Isaiah Harvin and Matt Hurley in line for playing time.
Hayden Gaus (6-1, 195) will be the tight end, backed by Eric Dodd and Nick Aprea.
Among the backups on the offensive line are junior tackle Dillon Curtin (5-9, 190), senior guard Jin Cho (6-1, 280) and junior guard/center Will McClure (6-1, 225).
Defensively the Cadets are led by Ellis, a linebacker who led the team in tackles last fall. Curtain, Wooding and Dodd are also vying for playing time at linebacker.
The tackles will be Whipkey and Cho, with Colaianni and Dodd at the ends.
In the defensive backfield will be corners Kriechbaum and Brady Nanners, with Benton Nanners at free safety and Tyler Ashbrook at strong safety.
Depew is assisted by James Cowart (defensive coordinator), James Wallace (special teams coordinator), Brian Valentine (offensive/defensive line), R.J. Zitzelsberger (quarterbacks) and L.A. Hampton (receivers).
Jong Jin Cho, Reno Colaianni, Domenic Ellis, Jameson Murray, Benton Nanners, Todd Nickoles, Zeke Scherich, Patrick Trouton, Austin Whipkey.
Chukwu Chukwudi, Dillon Curtin, Eric Dodd, Hayden Gaus, Zak Kriechbaum, Will McClure, Chimechi Oparanoizie.
Nick Aprea, Tyler Ashbrook, James Cartwright,Charlie Dodd, Isaiah Harvin, Matthew Hurley, Jay Mascara, Brady Nanners, Eric Taylor, Van Wooding.
Khalee Cephas, Brennon Conroy, Tommy Curtin, Floyd Giddings, Gage Giovengo, Jevin Jenson, Joseph Morano, Jacob Murray, Tritan Plute, Brendon Redden, Austin Sims, Hudson Wagner, Logan Welch.