Swanton will look to rebound from a 2-8 season with several starters returning on both sides of the ball.
Multiple skill position players return for the Bulldogs, who will again be running a spread offense under second-year head coach Denton Saunders.
“We are bringing back a lot of starters on both sides of the ball and 5 players who received all league honors,” said Saunders. “Overall we are returning 12 players on offense who started multiple games and 11 players on defense who started multiple games for us.”
Although Andrew Thornton, who started the 2019 season at quarterback is not playing, senior Trent Weigel returns to be the Swanton signal caller. He started multiple games following an injury to Thornton.
Weigel also played defensive back where he was named honorable mention all-league.
At wide receiver, Josh Vance leads the returnees after being named second team All-NWOAL last season as a junior. Sophomore Cole Mitchey is also back after seeing some time at wide receiver as a freshman. A likely third starter at wide out is senior Jon Byczynski.
Riley Hensley’s production will have to be replaced at both wide receiver and kicker, where he was first team all-league and second team all-district.
At running back, three-year letter winner Tyler Gowing (honorable mention all-league) graduated, but Devon Crouse and Ian Saunders return. Crouse was also a second team all-league defensive back and the punter, while Saunders was honorable mention all-league at linebacker.
Lathan Pawlowicz returns at tight end and will be joined by Hunter Gowing.
Injuries took a toll on the Bulldogs last season and they will hope for better luck on that front this year.
“We had some injuries to 5 key positions last year and for two weeks we had all our team captains injured at the same time. I was always extremely proud of all my players,” said Saunders. “Despite the low numbers and devastating injuries they always came ready to work at practice and played their hearts out every Friday night. Even though it may not have reflected it on the scoreboard, I believe my team got better every week last year.”
A hurdle that is faced by everyone this year is the impact of COVID-19.
“The biggest downfall is not being able to have our entire team at workout sessions at the same time,” Saunders said. “During the summer it is important for teams to come together and develop a toughness and edge in the weight room. Because of COVID-19 we have to do that with smaller groups.”
Team depth and line play could be weaknesses for Swanton this season.
“If a player or two gets injured I am not sure we will have the quality depth to fill their spot. We also need to improve our play on the offensive and defensive lines,” he said.
They do return some experience on the lines. Letter winners back include Connor Cass (honorable mention all-league DL), Bryce Marvin, Austyn Gossett, Eric Bettinger (honorable mention all-league OL), Andrew Smigelski, Josh Townes, and Aaron Thomas.
The defensive line will have to find a way to fill the hole left by Brendan Keith, who was first team all-league and second team all-district.
The Bulldogs will run a 4-2-5 defense with Thomas, Marvin, Townes and Pawlowicz likely to start on the line. Likely starters at defensive back are Josh Vance, Kadin Keivens, Mitchey, Crouse and Weigel.
At linebacker, second team all-league performer Xavier Wiemken will need to be replaced, along with Tyler Gowing. Saunders, Cass — who was also honorable mention all-league, but at DL — and Nate Vance will see time.
As for the league race, coach Saunders said Archbold has a lot of great talent coming back and is his pick to win the league again.
“Liberty Center, Wauseon and PH all made the playoff last year as well and will be looking to knock off Archbold,” he said. “Bryan is always big and tough. Evergreen and Delta will be much improved as well this year and be looking to jump into the top half of the league (same as us).”
With schedule changes due to COVID-19 Swanton will not open the season with Rossford, but will host Patrick Henry on Friday for an NWOAL contest.