Geneva's coaching staff reexamined its methods following last season's 3-6 finish.
The Vikings missed the playoffs for the first time since 2012 and only the second time in 14 years and won less than 4 games for the first time since a 2-7 finish in 2002. Geneva looks to bounce back in its final season as a member of the Upstate Eight Conference's River Division.
"This is a real critical year for us," 19th-year coach Rob Wicinski said. "When you go 3-6 you start turning over the rocks and looking at everything, which you didn't do when you were 8-1 or 7-2 and going deep into the playoffs.
"We're looking deep into ourselves. It's an interesting scenario to have later on in my coaching career. I'm looking forward to it and I know the staff is up for the challenge."
The quest to return to the playoffs starts with defense, at least initially. Six starters return from a unit that limited opponents to 23.2 points per game last year, the third-lowest total in the UEC River.
The defense revolves around seniors Troy Tams (6-foot-1, 190 pounds and Ian Hanson (6-1, 185), who Wicinski calls "a pair of downhill safeties who can cover out in space and tackle against all those spread offenses we see."
Physical end Cole Campbell (6-2, 220) returns to the line along with interior linemen Blake McAvoy (5-7, 229) and Noah Hood (6-0, 225). Neither tackle is a behemoth, but both can shed blocks and create havoc, their coach said.
Offensively, the Vikings hope to develop quickly. The lone returning starter is guard Riley Anderson (5-10, 180). He'll be joined in the trenches by junior Frank Martin (6-4, 290). Martin was elevated to the varsity last year as a sophomore but was unable to play due to injury.
Geneva's offense aims to improve on last year's scoring average of 20.8 points per game behind new quarterback Bobby Murray, the backup a year ago. Murray isn't surrounded by experienced varsity skill-position players, but he does have a big target in 6-4 senior receiver Jake Temple, who had 9 catches for 134 yards a year ago.
Murray and the Vikings should benefit from an influx of hungry, talented juniors who won the UEC River sophomore title last year.
Is it enough to compete with defending champion St. Charles East, St. Charles North, Batavia and Larkin, all of which defeated the fifth-place Vikings a year ago?
"We ran into a struggle last year, but our fingers are crossed," Wicinski said. "We have to get a little bit of swag back. We let the Tri-Cities schools off the hook. (St. Charles) East and North got us and Batavia has spanked us the last several years. That's not even a rivalry until we get our (act) together.
"But we have a nice class of juniors with a lot of good football players. We just have to get them up to the speed of the varsity game, which is always a challenge."