Columbus East came agonizingly close to winning a state football championship last fall.

That has the Olympians hungry to compete for another championship this season. Veteran coach Bob Gaddis is hoping they can build off that success in 2017.

“We have high expectations, but anytime you have the kind of tournament run like we had last year, I think it motivates the kids that are coming back,” Gaddis said. “It really promotes leadership from within your program, and when the kids are bought in to what you’re trying to do, you have a chance to be successful.”

East returns five starters on offense and seven on defense from a team that went 13-2 and fell to Westfield 16-13 in the Class 5A title game. That includes last year’s The Republic co-Football Players of the Year in senior quarterback Josh Major and senior running back Jamon Hogan.

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Major was effective last year, completing 77 percent of his passes for 1,164 yards and 11 touchdowns, with only three interceptions. He also ran for 1,222 yards and 18 scores.

“He’s stepped it up as a leader,” Gaddis said. “He’s always been a guy that was a hard worker and accountable. He’s become more vocal this year. He’s the leader of the offense.”

As usual, the Olympians will be a run-first offense. Hogan rushed for 2,417 yards and 38 touchdowns. Another senior, Jaedin Miller, added 697 yards and 11 scores on the ground.

Returning wide receivers for the Olympians caught a grand total of three passes last year, and one of those was by senior Ethan Summa, who plays mostly on the defensive side. Junior Cody Horner caught the other two.

Sophomore Dalton Back will play one of the wide receiver spots. Senior Klayton Brummett, Cody Horner and junior Zach Pierce are battling for the other. Senior J.J. Stainbrook also could see time at either wide receiver spot, and defensive backs Summa and junior Jonah Wichman also could play receiver.

Senior Tyler Thomas, who caught eight passes for 135 yards and three touchdowns, returns at tight end. Junior Isaac VanCurren will play in two-tight end sets.

Senior tackle Zach Clark and senior guard Mark Sciutto return on the offensive line. Senior Dakota Burton and juniors Jacob Bolte and Matt Romig are battling for the other tackle spot, and senior Codie Hagerdon steps in at guard. Senior Cole McCarter moves from defensive tackle to anchor the line at center.

Senior Ty Henderson returns at defensive end, where he will be joined by senior Carson Gilpin and Thomas. Seniors Nick Booth and Dante Seniours will be at tackle, while McCarter also will see action there.

Senior Zach O’Connor moves from middle to outside linebacker, and Charlie Burton returns at the other outside spot. Junior Nash Murphy steps in at middle linebacker.

Summa, who led the team with 99 tackles, returns at free safety, and junior Julian Greenwell moves from outside linebacker to strong safety. Wichman, who had a team-high five interceptions, is back at one corner. Seniors Nick Henderson, Luke Poindexter or Caleb Pettit or sophomore Lance Greiwe are battling for the other cornerback spot.

Junior kicker Sam Thomasson converted 88 of 91 extra points last season. Major returns at punter, but Thomasson is challenging for that job, as well.

East opens the regular season Friday at Bloomington North.

“We’ve had a great preseason,” Gaddis said. “I’ve been really happy with their effort. They’ve gotten a lot done. We feel like we accomplished what we wanted to in the preseason. Now, it’s time to go do it under the lights. Our goal always is to play our best football going into the tournament.”

At a glance

The 2017 Columbus East football schedule

Friday;at Bloomington North;7 p.m.

Aug. 25;Columbus North;7 p.m.

Sept. 1;at Seymour;7 p.m.

Sept. 8;at Jennings County;7 p.m.

Sept., 15;New Albany;7 p.m.

Sept. 22;Floyd Central;7 p.m.

Sept. 29;at Madison;7 p.m.

Oct. 6;at Jeffersonville;7 p.m.

Oct. 13;Bedford North Lawrence;7 p.m.

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