MORRISTOWN - Union Local hasn't won a football game since the 2010 season opener at Meadowbrook (21-19). That's a string of 19 consecutive losses.
The Jets will look to end that and also spoil the Colts' debut on turf Friday night in Byesville as the 2012 season kicks off. The meeting will be the last between the two schools as Union Local has picked up Monroe Central.
''Things could be lean around here again, but, at the same time, if we get off to a good start, I think things can be really positive this year," coach Mark Cisar said as he enters his seventh season in Morristown with a 30-33 record. "It could be a complete turnaround from the last two seasons."
The Jets seemed headed for a victory against Meadowbrook last season, but the Colts scored on the final play of the game for a thrilling, 32-26, triumph.
"If we could have won that game, who knows what could have happened?" Cisar questioned. "We probably could've won a couple more games at the beginning (of the season), but who knows.
"If we win that first game, it could've changed the kids' attitudes heading into the next week and so on. That was actually the turning point of our season ... Week 1.
"We need to get a win under our belts from the get-go. That's why the first couple of games are important for us. I think we match up pretty well with a couple of those teams, but the schedule gets tougher when we start Buckeye 8 play."
Cisar has 14 returning lettermen to help shoulder the burden of the 19-game winless skein, but no one is guaranteed a position.
"Everything is written in pencil at this point," the former two-time Kennedy Award winner from Magnolia High School stressed. "There is nothing etched in stone that says so-and-so is going to play where. Nobody is assured a starting position and we've told the kids that. Every position is open.
"We need to put the best athletes we've got out on the field in order to give us a chance to win."
Of the 14 letterwinners returning, half of them are two-year veterans, but only four of them are seniors. They include Brandon Winesickle, Josh Smith, Jesse Keith and Justin Pabin. Winesickle, Smith and Keith have all earned two letters.
Other two-season returners are juniors Mason Friede, Eric Dunfee, Travis James and Nathan Ferda. Sophomores Gavin Porter, Nick Pritts, Tater Blake, Spencer Ware, Kyle Litten and Griffey Girty round out the list.
''We played a lot of young kids last season," Cisar said. "We had six or seven freshmen letter last year. That's not a good thing when you're a D-4 school, but it's also a good thing when you can say these guys have varsity football experience.
"We've only got five seniors and seven juniors on the roster, so our sophomores are going to have to step up."
A positive aspect is that most of the returning lettermen are at skilled positions offensively.
For the third straight season, the Jets will have a new quarterback under center, or in the shotgun, as Porter will take over as Robert Simpson graduated.
Porter (6-foot, 170) saw limited action last year. He completed 11 of 27 attempts for 147 yards. He threw a pair of interceptions.
"Gavin got some valuable playing time as a freshman," Cisar said. "He didn't start any games, but there were some games in which he played the entire fourth quarter, and some where he even played in the third quarter. He got to see plenty of varsity action."
Porter battled with Dunfee (6-2, 188) in camp for the starting nod, but Cisar will not hesitate to use either.
"Eric is a little more athletic. He can do a few more things for us. Gavin is more of a pocket passer."
Dunfee carried twice last season and attempted three passes, all of which were picked off.
Also in the mix is freshman Trenton Tipton (6-2, 156).
Blake (5-9, 170) is back for another season at tailback. As a freshman, he ran for 92 yards on 44 carries, including 17 totes against St. Clairsville that resulted in 54 of those yards.
"Tater had a decent camp for us," Cisar said. "He started the last five or six games for us last season, so we're expecting some big things from him."
There is not a whole lot of depth behind Blake. Others expected to pick up some of the slack are Ware (5-7, 154) and Smith (5-9, 155). Also at tailback are freshmen Joey Brown (5-8, 158) and Dale Mason (5-9, 150).
Of that group, only Ware (12-97-td) lugged the leather last season.
Pritts (5-11, 205) is slated to be the fullback.
"Nick is another guy that saw quite a bit of time last season, mostly on defense," Cisar added. "He did play some tight end. He's a pretty good athlete, a good blocker and can catch the ball out of the backfield."
Freshman Jacob Fijalkowski (5-10, 225) could also line up at fullback, but has mainly been working out at tackle and tight end.
"He's look good so far," Cisar said of Fijalkowski.
Another candidate is freshman Matt McFarland (5-9, 165).
The split end will depend upon who is throwing the ball, according to Cisar.
If Porter is at quarterback, Dunfee will be be his target. When Dunfee is in the backfield, Porter will be at the wideout. The other side will have Ware (5-7, 154), James (5-8, 155), Friede (5-8, 170), Ferda (5-8, 150), Winesickle (5-9, 170), junior Cody Tipton (6-2, 173) and sophomore Austin Kemp (5-7, 145).
Dunfee landed 28 passes last season for 337 yards and a touchdown. James caught eight for 34 yards and a score, while Porter had four receptions and Tater Blake three.
Others listed as receivers are sophomores Dylan Nye (5-10, 165), John Howell (5-10, 130), Isaac Blake (5-8, 170) Jonathan Fritter (5-8, 160) and Eric Haverty (5-10, 190), and freshmen Kaleb McDiffitt (5-7, 130), Bobby Stewart (5-8, 125), Seth Anderson (5-6, 120), Tim Powell (6-2, 160), Dusten Monroe (5-5, 145), Isaac Goodson (5-9, 157), Kaleb Yonak (5-7, 130) and Demitree Turner (5-10, 154).
Freshman David Paulick (6-3, 227) is the lone tight end listed.
While the skilled positions have some veteranship back, the same can't be said for the offensive line where only two starters - Girty (6-3, 215) and Pabin (5-9, 175) - return.
"We're hoping to run the ball a little more this season," Cisar said. "I'm talking about getting 2-3 yards a carry, and not minus 2-3 like last year.
"I'm not looking for 50 carries or 200 yards a game, but if we would rush for 100 yards a game I'd be tickled," he said with a smile. "We're hoping that we don't have to go 70-30 (pass-to-run), but you never know with injuries. Hopefully, we'll be somewhere around 60-40."
Girty and Pabin both played center last season, but one of them will move to guard this season.
"Griffey had a good camp for us and did a really nice job last year," Cisar acknowledged.
Keith (5-10, 175) has moved from the backfield to the line this season just as his older brother (Sonny) did. He will either play center or guard.
"Jesse is a good blocker and played fullback for us last year, so he's a natural fit on the line," Cisar said.
A huge transfer, both literally and figuratively, from East Richland Christian is being highly touted. Sophomore Colton McKivitz (6-6, 230) is battling for a starting spot at offensive tackle.
"He could help us tremendously," Cisar said. "He's a big kid."
Others battling for starting berths are Fijalkowski, senior Adam Nicholes (6-1, 253), juniors Brandon Rutter (5-9, 190) and Josh Loy (5-9, 192), sophomores Litten (5-8, 225), Dalton Toto (5-10, 213) and Matt Dunfee (6-0, 194).
Also listed on the line are sophomores Bryan Bannan (6-4, 231) and Austin Hayes (5-10, 190); and freshmen Nik LeMasters (5-7, 152), Colton Burnheimer (6-1, 182), Patrick Abboud (5-10, 168), Jacob Johnson (5-10, 220), Tristan Price (5-8, 245), Jake Boyd (6-1, 174), Jackson Mehl (5-10, 175), Lucas Robb (5-9, 191) and Jeffrey Baker (6-1, 214).
Defensively, the Jets will use a variety of formations in trying to stop the opposition.
"We've basically been a 4-man front in the past, but we'll probably run more 5-front this year," Cisar added. "We'll also go 4-4 and 4-3."
The secondary will be the Jets strength on defense as Ware and James man the corners, while Dunfee and Porter are the strong and free safeties, respectively.
Also in the defensive backfield are McDiffitt, Trenton Tipton, Anderson, Kemp, Powell, Nye, Howell, Fritter, Yonak, Mason and Turner.
"We've got some experience back there," Cisar said of the defensive backs.
The linebackers will be led by Friede, Ferda, Pritts, Tater Blake, Keith, Stewart, Monroe, Brown, Isaac Blake, McFarland, Goodson, LeMasters and Haverty.
Manning the end slots are Winesickle, McKivitz, Abboud, Burnheimer and Cody Tipton. The down tackles include Litten, Rutter, Smith, Toto, Pabin, Johnson, Matt Dunfee, Price, Girty, Loy, Boyd, Bannan, Mehl, Fijalkowski, Robb, Hayes, Nicholes, Baker and Paulick.
"The biggest thing is that we have to get better at tackling," Cisar said. "When we have a chance to get off the field, we have to do that. We also can't allow big plays or time-consuming drives.
"You're going to give up yards. That's part of the game, but we've got to tackle better."
Special teams will have Eric Dunfee handling all of the kicking duties for the second straight year. He will also run back punts and kicks with James, Blake and Ware.
As far as the schedule goes, Union Local meets Meadowbrook in Friday's opener before returning to Jets Stadium to play host to Morgan. Week 3 has Barnesville invading Morristown, while Buckeye 8 action takes over the next week.
"I like our schedule," Cisar said. "Playing Meadowbrook for the final time will make the opener a little more exciting. We liked playing them and we always had good games against them.
"Then it's Morgan, at our place, and at Barnesville. We need to get a couple of wins in those three games because the schedule gets tougher with the Buckeye 8."
Despite the lack of success in recent seasons, Cisar is pleased with the numbers his program has out this year.
"The juniors have stuck with us through a couple of tough seasons," he said. "The sophomores endured last season.
"We've got 22 freshmen on the team, but we're going to try and not play them on the varsity level this year," Cisar vowed. "It's just not fair for a 15 year old to have to lineup against an 18 year old that has varsity experience and has already matured.
"There might be a couple that are good enough to play, but we'll wait and see."
There are two new additions to the Jets' coaching staff in John Kutcher and Brion Schiappa. They join, in addition to Cisar (off. coordinator), Mike Menges (def. coordinator), Doug Butts, Vaughn Butler, Roger Herbert and Cyle Cole. The junior high staff includes Eric Kerns, Kevin Spiker, Zach Delman, Zach Azallion, Pec Schmitt and Jordan Barbina.