DELPHOS – A digital clock in the Delphos St. John’s locker room counts down the days, minutes and seconds until opening night against Toledo Woodward.
It also ticks away the time until many rookie Blue Jays will take the field.
St. John’s went 8-5 last year and reached the regional finals before falling to Minster.
It was the first time since 2014 that St. John’s, a six-time state champion, had reached the playoffs.
“It’s back to the tradition of getting back to the playoffs and getting them to see what that atmosphere is about and how exciting it is,” St. John’s coach Todd Schulte said. “It adds to motivation. And the idea for them is to say, ‘That was a neat experience. Let’s try to do that again.’
“It’s been a while. There’s an added intensity to it and it’s neat to experience.’’
The bulk of last year’s team is gone, as 17 seniors graduated.
Five starters return on offense and four are back on defense.
The key returnee is 6-foot-4 senior quarterback Jared Wurst, who threw for 1,511 yards and seven TDs. He also ran the option and straight ahead for 841 yards and 15 TDs.
He’ll be expected to run and throw his way to lead the one-back, power-based option Blue Jays.
“He’s (Wurst) been through the battles and he knows exactly what we’re expecting,” Schulte said. “He’s more accurate and understands what we’re looking for in different reads.
“We have to have the balance (on offense). He’s a running quarterback and he’s a throwing quarterback. There were times last year where he had 20 carries and threw the ball 18 times. He’s a large chunk of our offense.’’
Wurst was also the punter on The Lima News Dream Team.
Two of Wurst’s top targets will be veterans in tight end Lucas Metcalfe (13 receptions, 155 yards, one TD) and wide receiver Curtis Schwinnen (21 receptions, 327 yards).
Brady Grothaus, a starter on defense, will also line up at wide receiver.
The Blue Jays return two starters on the offensive line in tackle Hunter Bonifas and Griffin Hamilton, who moves from guard to center.
“We feel good about the two guys back (on the offensive line), but finding the replacements up front is our most important job right now to make sure we can run the ball, control the line of scrimmage and pass protect,” Schulte said.
In the preseason, three new backs are battling for time in the one-back set.
Junior Devin Lindeman, junior Jordan Brown and senior Peter Ankerman could rotate at running back.
“Right now it’s by committee,” Schulte said.
Kicker Mark Wrasman is also back.
The defense graduated nearly the entire secondary and two linebackers.
“That was the strength of our defense last year, our linebackers and our DBs,” Schulte said. “When you replace all of them at once, it’s a large task. … Metcalfe, Grothaus and Hunter Bonifas up front have to help the younger guys.’’
Metcalfe (44 tackles) returns at middle linebacker.
Grothaus will anchor the secondary from his free safety spot.
Dominic Metzger (44 tackles, two sacks) returns at defensive end.
Bonifas (33 tackles, two sacks) is back at defensive tackle.
Schulte, in his 20th year at St. John’s, and his staff have traveled this route before.
“What they need to know (this year) might be different than having 17 seniors, where some of those guys knew it,” Schulte said. “But we’ve been through it before. It’s a matter of getting ourselves prepared to play two good non-league teams (Toledo Woodward and Lima Central Catholic) and then go through the gauntlet of our league. Growing up in a hurry is going to be big for us.’’