The Columbus East football team was still on its way home from Saturday night’s state finals loss to Westfield when some of the returning players started talking about next year.

The Olympians won’t be waiting long to get back to work.

“I’ve already talked to some of the guys about getting in the weight room first thing Monday morning,” junior tight end Tyler Thomas said. “We’re excited. We’re ready for next year.”

Thomas, who caught touchdown passes in East’s 35-15 semistate win at Bloomington South and in the 16-13 state finals defeat, is among five offensive starters returning. Eight defensive players who saw extensive action also will be back.

Sophomore cornerback Jonah Wichman, who led East with five interceptions, said Saturday’s loss would push the returning players through offseason workouts.

“It was was a tough loss tonight, but it was a small setback,” Wichman said. “There’s always a major comeback, so we’ll get them next year.”

Much of the reason for heightened optimism for next year comes from the return of the entire backfield. Junior quarterback Josh Major threw for 1,164 yards and 11 touchdowns and ran for 1,222 yards and 18 scores.

Junior Jamon Hogan ran for 2,417 yards and 38 touchdowns. His backup, junior Jaedin Miller, added 697 yards and 11 scores.

“It hurts right now. But people that are juniors and below, it’s getting us pumped up to come back next season ready,” Hogan said.

Major, however, wasn’t quite ready to look that far ahead.

“It was a great season,” Major said. “I love all of these guys. It’s the most fun season I’ve ever had, so it’s really hard to think about next year. It’s a disappointing loss. We obviously wanted to win and go out on top, but (give) credit to Westfield because they played a great game.”

Junior safety Ethan Summa, who led the team with 99 tackles during the season, likely will lead the defense, along with Wichman and junior middle linebacker Zach O’Connor.

The group has lofty goals for 2017.

“We want nothing less than the state championship next year,” Thomas said. “This year, getting to the state championship, it’s a little bit of fuel to our fire.”

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Ted Schultz is sports editor for The Republic. He can be reached at tschultz@therepublic.com or 812-379-5628.