LAKEWOOD RANCH -- Lakewood Ranch is known for churning out big offensive linemen who love the dirt and grime of trench-warfare football.
In 2015, the season might be determined by how well that group can clear the path for the Mustangs' running backs. If it performs as expected, they might name Lakewood Ranch's home field the Grind House.
The Mustangs lost Chad Rex, a three-year dual-threat starter at quarterback, which means they will be lacking experience at a key position. But they have the entire interior offensive line returning along with leading rusher Justin Fischer and top backup Daron Lowery. The other returning offensive starter is receiver Trevor Losada.
"Our strength is on the offensive line and at running back, and we have to take advantage of that," Lakewood Ranch head coach Mic Koczersut said. "We have two good candidates for quarterback, but I don't expect to make a decision on the starter until the fall."
The best of the linemen could be guard Gabe Overmeyer, a 6-foot-4, 290-pounder who graded out 86 percent on blocks last year and had 23 pancakes in earning first team Herald All-Area honors.
The other returning starters are guard Kyle Mathis, center Josh Jones and tackles Sam Jackson and Evan Georgas. The line averages about 280 pounds and all the lineman will be seniors, except Jackson, a rising junior.
"I am expecting a whole lot from the offensive line. We have experience and a lot of talent," said Overmeyer, who hopes to attend West Point. "We are better because you get used to all the different tricks and trades of all the defensive linemen, and that will help. Our running backs are amazing, and both have a lot of varsity experience."
Fischer ran for more than 800 yards in nine games last season and averaged 6.8 yards per carry to rank second among public school running backs in the county.
"Our offensive line is just a whole bunch of big, though dudes," Fischer said. "I like to hit people so I like to take it through the tackles and then bounce myself outside. The best thing about our offense is that we don't give up. We are hard to stop and love to run the ball."
The top quarterback candidates are rising senior Grant Weisman and Justin Curtis, who quarterbacked the freshman team last season.
Built like a linebacker, Weisman has a stronger arm and is a dropback-style quarterback. Curtis is mobile and more of a dual-threat quarterback. Coach K said the Mustangs will alternate series in the spring game against Booker.
The Mustangs have five starters back on defense and others who saw significant playing time, but more importantly they have more speed, Koczersut said.
They rotated about eight guys on the defensive line last year. The most experienced returnees are nose guard Roberto Valls and defensive tackles Cameron Koehler. The defensive end slots are up for grabs, the coach said.
The Mustangs may try a 3-4 defense this year. Their returning linebackers are Zack Ben-Ghuzzi, Tyree Rome and Ronnie Cunningham.
The secondary is led by safety Daymon Murray, a rising senior who started the previous two seasons. Cody Hendrickson, a starting cornerback last season, is out for the spring with a broken jaw.
"We have some new faces out, and we think we are going to be pretty fast. The linebackers we had last year were pretty fast and by switching to a 3-4 we get to add one more guy with speed," Koczersut said.
Mustangs at a glance
Head coach: Mic Koczersut, second year
2014 record: 6-3
Spring outlook: The Mustangs must find a replacement for three-year starter Chad Rex at quarterback and are looking for a tight end and two defensive ends. There are two open spots in the secondary.
Coach's quote: "You have to play to your strengths, and for us that is our offensive line and running backs. We have more speed on defense than we've ever had and might switch to a 3-4 to take advantage of that. The biggest thing for our spring game is that I don't want to get anybody hurt." -- Koczersut
Spring game: Home vs Booker, 7 p.m. Friday.