HARROD – Allen East made its first trek to the playoffs since 2006 last year.
The Mustangs went 9-2, 6-1 in the Northwest Conference en route to winning a tri-share of the NWC title.
The Mustangs’ high-octane offense lost to Liberty Center 43-12 in the first round of the playoffs.
Gone is Lima News Dream Team Coach of the Year Wes Schroeder, who is now coaching at Granville.
Taking over for Schroeder is six-year Mustangs assistant Joel Billings.
Billings, a 2006 Waynesfield High Grad, played on the defensive line at Defiance College.
He started his coaching career with three years at Bellefontaine.
Billings has spent the last six years at Allen East, including last year coaching the offensive line.
The Mustangs return plenty for the rookie head coach, including eight starters on offense and eight more on defense.
They do need to fill holes from graduated quarterback Bryce Belcher, wide receiver Cole Fletcher, running back Hunter Paxson and linemen Brennan Davies and Garrett Neth.
Belcher was the trigger man in the one-back, spread offense and threw for 1,497 yards with 16 TDs last year. He also rushed for 584 yards.
But don’t expect the Mustangs to switch from the spread that previous coach Schroeder put in.
The offense averaged 31.5 points-per-game, which was fourth in the NWC.
Taking his place is senior veteran Tyler Clum, who missed all last year with an ACL knee injury he suffered in February of 2019.
“We’ll be similar (to last year),” Billings said. “The spread needs a good quarterback and he fits that role.’’
Clum started some as a freshman and was the full-time quarterback as a sophomore.
“Tyler was very involved last year,” Billings said. “He was out there every day running the scout team and helped out with the quarterback and the wide receivers. We’re excited to have him back.
“He’s hungry and like a coach on the field. He takes charge and is excited to get out and compete. … He understands what’s going on and can run, as well.’’
Fletcher, a first team all-NWC receiver, is a big loss, but there are veterans at the position this year.
Bradden Crumrine was also first team all-NWC and had 31 receptions for 461 yards and eight TDs.
Other experienced wide receivers are Gavin Maxwell and Carter Young.
The key to the offense is four starters return on the offensive line, including second team all-NWC center Eli Myers.
Joining Myers are veterans guard Eli Criblez and twins guard Gunner Rister and tackle Gage Rister.
Lineman Gabe Criblez moves from the line to H-back/tight end.
“With four offensive linemen back, it helps that they understand what we’re doing,” Billings said. “And I was involved with the offensive line last year. Eli (Myers) is our glue guy (up front).’’
Three who will get carries in the running game are veteran middle linebacker Blake Hershberger, sophomore Wyatt Paxson and sophomore Kade Wireman.
The Mustangs will run a 3-5-3 defense with the linebacking unit the team’s strength.
The defense led the league in giving up a stingy 12.5 points-per-game last year.
Eli Criblez is back on the defensive line.
At linebacker are Jordan Motter, Travis Wilson, Chase Miller and middle linebacker Hershberger, who was first team all-NWC and the NWC’s co Defensive Player of the Year.
Wilson was second team all-NWC.
“The linebackers understand the system and have gotten bigger and faster,” Billings said. “Hershberger has great instincts.’’
Gavin Maxwell and Crumrine return at cornerbacks.
Billings said a key to return to the top of the NWC is filling a few spots on the lines, especially on defense where graduated Neth was first team all-NWC.
A big plus is the bulk of the team has playoff experience.
“The kids know what it takes to win,” Billings said. “They’ve seen what happens when you put in the work. Getting to the playoffs last year, they’ve now been there. And experience in the playoffs is big.’’