New-look white helmets with big green lightning bolts and players' uniform numbers underneath won't be the only novel elements this season for the Sage Hill School football team.
Second-year coach J.R. Tolver said that a tectonic shift in personnel has also forced him and his staff back to the drawing board on both sides of the ball.
"At a small school, you never really have a handle on it," Tolver said of a system aimed at continuity. "Honestly, we threw out the playbook we used last year and started over, because the team is so much different than it was last year.
"I've learned that you can't be married to a system, because you might not have the players to fit it. One of the challenges for me and my staff is always going to be to realize what we have and then to see what we can create for those players to be successful."
So, the offense, without a veteran, physical line, will feature less smashmouth and more dazzle.
And the defense has shifted from a four-three scheme to a three-three-five.
And while Tolver listed the varsity roster at 34 players, he said only about 16 would constitute those he would count upon between the sidelines. So, depth will be a concern.
Here's a position-by-position look at the Lightning:
Quarterback: Senior Randall Mycorn returns here after earning second-team All-Academy League laurels in a junior season hampered by a separated shoulder. He completed 43 of 93 attempts for 544 yards and eight touchdowns, with nine interceptions.
He is bigger and stronger this season, which may come in handy behind an offensive line that returns only one starter.
"Athletically, he has always been gifted," Tolver said. "Now, he has the size to back it up. I think he'll play extremely well."
Mycorn should also benefit from the Lightning's inaugural summer passing league experience.
Sophomore Harrison Ray is slated to trigger the offense for the junior varsity and he will be an option as a backup, Tolver said.
And senior Taylor Ross, the starting tailback who saw time last year as a quarterback, though primarily as a runner, has worked on his passing abilities, should he be called upon again.
"[Ross] is not a natural thrower, but he is just a natural football player," Tolver said.
Tolver also said the team would utilize more shotgun formation this season in order to bide more time for Mycorn in the pocket.
Running backs: Ross carried 92 times for 610 yards and five touchdowns last season while sharing the rushing chores with then-fullback Dusty Orrantia (494 yards and eight touchdowns). The 5-foot-10, 190-pound Ross led the team in rushing and will be an even bigger workhorse this season, Tolver said, despite having a major role on defense and being the team's kicker.
"The more times he touches the ball, the better chance we have to win," Tolver said.
Junior Eric Cheng (5-7, 131) is a thoroughly atypical fullback, who will also line up in split backs and in the slot.
"Eric is a changeup back who does things in the open field that can't be taught," Tolver said of Cheng, who carried just seven times last season for minus-three yards. "I think Ross and Cheng will get about 90% of the carries.
Receivers: Junior Taylor Petty (6-1, 185) had 14 receptions for 224 yards and three touchdowns as a sophomore, when then-senior tight end Connor Gaughan was the leading receiver with 19 catches for 355 yards and five TDs.
"Petty's mentality has shifted this year, and he realizes he is better than most guys who are going to line up across from him," Tolver said. "He is craving to be involved this year, when last year he just took it as it came.
"Mycorn and Petty throw and catch one of the prettier deep posts you'll see."
Junior Conner Ascher (5-9, 150), who returns as a starting cornerback, is slated to start at the other wideout. He saw some time at receiver last season, though he did not catch a pass.
"He is not very big, but he has a certain smoothness to him, running routes and getting open," Tolver said.
Tight end: Junior Ford Hanour (6-0, 185) takes over for Gaughan here. Hanour had only one reception to his credit last season. He played some offensive line last season, Tolver said, so his blocking ability is a proven commodity.
"He's going to be a playmaker for us this year on both sides of the ball," Tolver said of Hanour, who will also start at outside linebacker.
Offensive line: Senior TJ Danner (6-1, 260) was a stalwart at left guard last season and he returns to anchor a front wall that will feature a newcomer at every other position.
Tolver said the first-team all-league and All-Newport-Mesa honoree in 2009 will always line up on the strong side and Tolver will make no secret of wanting the ball to most likely go behind him when a run is called between the tackles.
Senior Tanner Etherton (6-1, 180) is slated to play left tackle.
"Tanner is our most aggressive kid, by far," Tolver said. "He just loves to hit."
Senior Max Whitaker (5-11, 195) is the frontrunner at the other guard spot, while senior Kevin Gregg (6-1, 180) is slated to start at right tackle. Both are first-year players. Whitaker had played water polo in the fall.
Freshman Lucas Ellison (5-11, 195) is the starting center, Tolver said.
"Ellison is a tremendous lacrosse player," said Tolver, who also likes his potential on the football field.
Sophomore Leland Stephens (5-9, 260) and freshman Jack Bick (5-10, 175) are also first-year players who might be prospects.
Defensive line: Danner, who had 43 tackles and four sacks last season at tackle, shifts to noseguard and will anchor the three-man front.
"In our scrimmage [Saturday at The Bishop's in San Diego] TJ made seven tackles in a row," Tolver said. "He looked like Ndamukong Suh [the decorated Nebraska defensive tackle taken second overall by the Detroit Lions in the 2010 NFL Draft]. He was unbelievable."
Tolver also said Danner and Ross are senior co-captains who are valuable leaders.
Whitaker and Gregg are slated to start at the two end spots.
Linebackers: Etherton, who was second-team all-league on the outside last season, will shift to the middle, flanked by junior David Fenner (5-9, 150) and Hanour.
Fenner was in the secondary last season, but has shown a nose for the football.
"You could put him anywhere and he would make a play," Tolver said.
Petty and Ross give the Lightning a Taylor-made set of rovers, who both figure to be in the thick of things against the run and the pass.
Ross made 51 tackles last season, ranking third on the team, and Petty was in on 42. Ross had two interceptions and Petty had one in 2009. Petty, was second-team all-league last season at safety.
"I feel really comfortable with those guys," Tolver said of his linebacking corps.
Secondary: Cheng and Ascher return at cornerback, where Cheng, made 37 tacklers and earned second-team all-league distinction last season.
Tolver will utilize Mycorn as the single safety.
"Mycorn's ball skills are awesome," Tolver said.
Sophomore Charlie Kim provides depth.
Special Teams: Ross made four field goals and thundered 19 kickoffs into the end zone for touchbacks on his way to being named Kicker of the Year in the Academy League last season. He returns to pose a field-goal threat with range to 50 yards, Tolver said.
Hanour figures to be the punter and he joins Danner as the candidates at long-snapper.
Mycorn is the holder, while Ross, Cheng and Petty are the featured kick returners.