After a trying 1-9 overall season beset by injuries last year, Ferndale head coach Tony Penna Sr. is expecting improvement from his experienced group of Yellow Jackets this season.
"We have a change in character and attitude. I think that's the biggest thing we had to overcome," said Penna, who took control of the program last year. "It wasn't a thing you were going to do in one year."
"Our work ethic has definitely changed," senior Eric Kowalewski said. "We have people willing to make sacrifices."
Penna said the Yellow Jackets will return skilled players at each position and have a larger roster than in previous seasons.
"Our numbers are pretty decent — we're over 30 — and the work ethic has been good," he said.
Among the returning starters is senior Colton Dull, who assumed the starting quarterback duties after Ferndale's top three players were lost to season-ending injuries early in the season.
"He was our fourth guy. We didn't give him proper reps," Penna said. "This kid led us the whole way, and we played in some real games — some tough ones and some close ones — to his credit."
Dull, who completed 26 of 63 passes last year, will likely take a back seat to Chad Eisenhuth this season, but Penna said both Dull and fellow back-up quarterback Mike Dorchack will see the field as receivers.
"We're really skilled at wide receiver. We have an abundance of six or seven really good guys who can catch the ball."
Undersized senior Greg Walters, listed at 5-6 and 135 pounds, will return to start at running back after gaining 139 yards and one touchdown on the ground last year.
"Greg is going to have a big year," Dull said. "You can see it in is eyes. He wants to win, and he's not going to give up."
The offensive line will be anchored by senior guard Eric Kowalewski. Juniors Jacob Toth, Tyler Smith, Steve Thompson and Carl Jeske are also likely to see time on the line, along with sophomore Levi Eisenhuth.
The same group will comprise the defensive line, with junior Carlos Mason and seniors Ravaunn Hardrick and Jeff Burns among the linebackers.
The secondary will include Dorchak, Walters and Dull along with juniors Tyler Hileman, Dan Wozniak and Patrick Palmer and sophomore Isaiah Sajatovich.
Walters tied for the team lead in tackles last year with 46, and Kowelski led the team with 4 sacks.
Dull said last year's improvement is providing optimism that the Yellow Jackets will be rewarded with their first WestPAC victory since 2009 this year.
"It used to be 60 or 70 to nothing. Then (last year) we were losing by a touchdown. We're not quite where we want to be, but we are getting there," he said.