LUCAS — No matter who it is lining up across the field, the Lucas football team always remains focused on one thing and one thing only.
It is the same approach the Cubs will take into the 2022 season, and why not? If it isn't broke, don't fix it, right? The Cubs are hunting for their ninth consecutive trip to the postseason, and the internal focus of a program fixture that carried them to the playoffs in each of the last eight years.
Lucas went 10-2 last season, falling in a regional semifinal game to Dalton — the first time in four seasons it did not compete for a regional championship. With 13 lettermen back, including six starters on offense and six on defense, the Cubs fully expect to keep the train rolling because, in their program, expectations never graduate.
"Our teams never set tangible goals," Lucas coach Scott Spitler, who is 88-59 entering this 13th year at the helm, said. "It is our program mindset that the tangible things take of themselves if we adhere to our culture and style of play. Our seniors create a vision and plan of action for our team and they adhere to our program beliefs."
The Cubs will continue to run the legendary double wing offense that has carried them to those eight straight postseasons. It will feature a deep group of skill players, one of the best Spitler has seen in his tenure at the school.
The offense starts with the field general as senior Andrew Smollen is back at quarterback for the third year. Last season, he ran for 66 yards and a touchdown and threw for 468 with four TDs. He was voted as a team captain, proving his leadership ability is unmatched.
The Cubs have a stable of running backs yet again. Junior Logan Toms returns from a broken leg he suffered last season that kept him out of all but a game and a half. Graysen Jackson will also see time at running back along with Andrew Fanello, who ran for 837 yards on 119 carries and caught 18 passes for 326 yards and four scores while lining up at multiple positions on offense.
The fullback position is coming down to senior Ty Lehnhart and Dan Hockensmith, who are battling it out for the starting spot. Regardless, both are expected to make major contributions at the position throughout the year.
Corbin Toms and Hunter Church will be the Cubs' tight ends this year. Corbin Toms was versatile last season, running for 237 yards, catching nine passes for 140 yards and even throwing for 172 yards and two touchdowns.
Lucas will be breaking in an all new offensive line in 2022. Keaton Day will start at left tackle while Buck Arnold starts at left guard, Ray Caudill at center, Dylan Page at right guard and Brayden Spitler at right tackle. It is a young group, but the athleticism is off the charts.
Aidan Culler, who is recovering from a torn ACL suffered during basketball season, will handle the kicking duties. Once he is cleared, he will make a huge impact. He nailed 33 point-after attempts and six field goals, with many of those from 40-plus yards.
Corbin Toms and Fanello will be dangerous kick returners.
Zach Diehl will add depth at running back while Logan Papst will rotate in at offensive line and Zac Winters at tight end.
"Offensively, we return a ton of experience at the skill positions," Scott Spitler said. "Brayden Spitler and Keaton Day are the returning experience coming back on a line that will be young and athletic."
Defensively, the Cubs will feature many of the same players, per usual at a Division VII school, but that also means the identity of the offense will be similar to the defense — fast, athletic and skilled.
Brayden Spitler and Arnold will both start at defensive end with Day at tackle in the 3-4 defense. Page, Russell Conn, Lehnhart and Caudill will all see time at inside linebacker as the Cubs can keep fresh legs at the position with a four-man rotation.
Fanello and Jackson will start at outside linebacker. Fanello was a difference maker last season on defense, piling up 58 tackles, 11 for a loss, two sacks and a fumble recovery.
Church and Diehl will be the cornerbacks with Logan Toms at strong safety and Corbin Toms at free safety. Corbin Toms had a standout year on defense with 60 tackles, five for a loss, and two interceptions. He will also return punts while Culler does the punting.
Smollen and Hockensmith will see time at outside linebacker with Papst rotating in on the defensive line and Stevaon Irby bringing depth to the secondary.
"The defense returns a lot of experience with the entire back seven intact from last season," Spitler said. "The front has a lot of new faces but features guys who gained experience in backup roles last season."
Last season, the Cubs fought through injuries at major positions throughout the season and still won 10 games against 11 playoff teams. Needless to say, the ability to stay healthy throughout the year is a huge concern in 2022.
"Staying healthy and the growth of our younger players will be our X-factors," Spitler said. "2021 was a season of injury for us it seemed at every turn."
The Cubs kickoff the 2022 season on Friday night at home against Clear Fork.
This article originally appeared on Mansfield News Journal: Lucas Cubs return skill, athleticism for 2022 high school football season