Christian Heritage coach John Merrell likes what he sees when he looks over the roster: nine returning starters on offense; 10 players with starting experience back on defense.
"We have depth at positions, which we have not had," he said.
What's more, among the long list of game-ready players, Merrell has one of Class 2A's top defenders in Josh Blair.
"This will be his third year to start for us at linebacker," Merrell said. "And he's bigger and stronger than he's ever been. He's over 215 now. He just has tremendous desire to be a good football player and he's only gotten better and better every year."
The son of Paul Blair, who was an offensive lineman for Oklahoma State and the Chicago Bears, Josh Blair is excelling on the other side of the ball. As a junior he piled up 113 tackles and had 16 tackles behind the line of scrimmage. He also recovered six fumbles.
Now at 6-1, 220 pounds, Blair appears set for an even bigger season, which could result in additional recruiting attention.
Aside from Blair's obvious athleticism, Merrell says the linebacker has all the other intangibles required of a star player
"He works extremely hard in the offseason," said Merrell. "He's confident. He believes in himself. He's going to go hard every play."
And he's going to have plenty of help corralling opposing ball carriers. Fellow senior and linebacker Jared Wheeler just missed the 100-tackle mark last season, racking up 95. And strong safety Kenny Wooldridge (who also is a standout at receiver and handles the punting for the Crusaders) logged 62 stops.
For all the upperclassmen leading the defense, CHA's offense will be piloted by a sophomore. However, Bryant Hodge got a wealth of experience as a freshman. The 5-9, 155-pounder accounted for 1,403 yards of total offense and 11 touchdowns.
The Crusaders are jumping up to 2A from Class A, where they went 5-5 last season. CHA ended the season winning five of its last seven games and closed with a two-game winning streak in which the Crusaders scored a combined 75 points.
District 2A-2 coaches' poll 1. Millwood (12-2) 2. Lexington (8-3) 3. Jones (2-8) 4. Luther (5-6) 5. Christian Heritage (5-5) 6. Northeast (1-9) 7. Crooked Oak (2-8) 2009 record in parentheses