The exodus of two-time defending Division III state champion Steubenville and 2006 runner-up Kettering Archbishop Alter due to realignment by the Ohio High School Athletic Association has left several coaches with the same sentiments: “things are wide open.”
Correspondent Heath Dawson checks in with an overview of this year's Division III landscape.
While the departure of the pair of powerhouse programs to D-IV has made it stronger, this year’s field of teams in D-III could be as solid as ever.
Several coaches made mention of Dayton Chaminade-Julienne (Region 12), Sunbury Big Walnut (Region 10), Lemon-Monroe (Region 12), Mentor Lake Catholic (Region 9) and Bellefontaine (Region 10) as just some of the favorites to be crowned the new king of the hill.
Other top contenders include Cuyahoga Falls Walsh Jesuit, Cleveland Benedictine, Hubbard and Niles McKinley (Region 9); St. Marys Memorial, Tipp City Tippecanoe, Clyde and Tiffin-Columbian (Region 10); Newark Licking Valley, Canal Fulton Northwest, New Philadelphia and Dover (Region 11); and Germantown Valley View, Cincinnati Indian Hill, Columbus Eastmoor and Washington Courthouse (Region 12).
Not only does the guarantee of a new champion make things exciting, but players like Washington Court House Miami Trace’s Nathan Williams, Columbus Eastmoor Academy’s Isaiah Pead, Cincinnati Indian Hills’ Ted Balser, St Marys Memorial’s Koby Frye, Canal Fulton Northwest’s Teddy Robb and New Philadelphia’s Jordan Miller should make 2007 a season to remember in D-III.
With a pair of speedsters – senior RB/CB Sean Egler (5-10, 180) and senior QB/DB Keith Morgan (6-1, 200), who are both being looked at by Mid-American Conference schools as well as Purdue, Northwestern and Illinois – the Chieftains should definitely be much-improved this year under fifth-year head coach Jason Brown. The state-qualifying (track) duo rushed for over a combined 2,800 yards in 2006.
Head coach Rick Goodrich will be hard pressed to reach the postseason for a fourth consecutive year after watching 24 seniors graduate, including RB Stephen Ford, who rushed for over 5,000 yards in his career, QB Sean Mahley and four offensive linemen. However, Goodrich has built Cambridge into a recognized and respected football program in his eight years so fans could see preseason question marks turn into strengths by the time the ’Cats hit East Central Ohio League play in Week 4.
|Canal Fulton Northwest (6-5)|
The Indians’ offense should be worth watching this fall. Nine starters return, including senior WRs Teddy Robb (6-1, 205) and Tony Stover (6-3, 205), who both participated in the Ted Ginn Bus Tour. Robb has 88 receptions for 1,337 and 11 TDs in his career. Senior QB Jimmy Shiplett (6-3, 200) is also a big offensive weapon. He was 128-of-245 for 1,786 yards and 13 TDs. If the Indians are to reach the playoffs for a seventh straight season, Coach Vic Whiting’s defense could be the key.
|Canton South (8-4)|
The loss of transfer DeVoe Torrence, who left for Massillon Washington, will be a big loss for the Wildcats. Torrence has already committed to Ohio State. Despite losing Torrence, head coach Moe Daniska feels his team has the experience to make a return to the postseason. South will be running the spread offense for a second year and Daniska feels the familiarity should be a big plus, especially for junior QB Matthew Trissel (5-11, 175).
After going 29-1 over the past three regular seasons, the Braves have “fizzled” in the playoffs. According to 15-year head coach Kevin Siple, the focus is on making a statement in the postseason (should Indian Hill reach Week 11) and the schedule has been beefed up to help in that effort. The Braves feature a talented quartet of gridders – senior WR Nick Kergiakes (6-0, 170), senior RB Jon Von Deylen (6-2, 215), junior wideout Ted Balser (6-5, 220) and sophomore QB Bo Cordell (6-0, 180) – that should keep them in every game.
|Cleveland Benedictine (2-8)|
The Bengals had a down year under seven-year head coach Art Bortnick in 2006 as they finished the season 2-8. However, off-season chemistry is what Bortnick is counting on to turn around his team’s fortunes this fall. Another big key for Benedictine is the experience sophomore QB John Hromulak (5-11, 175) gained as a freshman. A skilled junior class that also gained a lot of playing time in ’06 should equate into more Ws for the Bengals.
The Fliers are “fully expecting to be back in the playoffs” and “make some noise” this season, as third-year head coach Mark Gibson said. He feels those things can happen if everything falls into place. The team definitely has the pieces to reach the playoffs and compete for a regional crown. Senior LB/RB Jacob Andrews (6-1, 200) is being recruited by several MAC schools and recorded 120 tackles at his LB position. Senior K/P Jerry Phillips (6-1, 210) is also being looked at by MAC schools and gives Clyde a solid special team’s advantage. Junior Alex Gillett (6-1, 175) also returns as the team’s QB. He threw for over 1,300 yards and accounted for 21 TDs as a sophomore.
|Columbus Eastmoor Academy (7-4)|
Senior RB/DB Isaiah Pead (5-11, 190) should be more than enough to get the Warriors back to the playoffs, despite moving up to D-III. According to fifth-year head coach James Miranda, Pead has 17 offers, including some MAC schools, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Indiana, Illinois, Pittsburgh, Louisville, Maryland and Cincinnati. Pead had 1,820 yards (10.1 yards per carry) and 23 TDs in 2006. Senior QB Terrence Drakeford (5-10, 175) also had over 1,000 yards. With several others back on offense, the Warriors should be fun to watch in ’07.
|Cuyahoga Falls Walsh Jesuit (7-3)|
Opponents should find it very difficult to put up points against a Walsh Jesuit defense that returns seven starters and at least two on the line, linebacking group and secondary. The Warriors will feature size and experience (all five starters are back) on the offensive line. The biggest task 29-year head coach Gerry Rardin faces is finding a QB to put behind the Great Wall of Cuyahoga Falls that includes senior Andrew Illig (6-4, 285), senior Chris Ciraldo (6-2, 305), senior Chi Chi Ibe (6-4, 270), senior Matt Mitchkash (6-3, 255) and junior Pat McShane (6-5, 285).
|Dayton Chaminade-Julienne (5-5)|
The Eagles’ brutal schedule kept them out of the playoffs despite being perhaps the best .500 team in the state. Second-year head coach Andy Helms should have one of the best offensive units in Region 12, especially with the senior WR combo of Travis Jackson (6-0, 165) and Zack Kauth (6-4, 185). Junior signal caller Kurt Hess (6-2, 215) is also back in the fold and Helms feels he’ll play with more confidence in the second year with the offense. CJ’s coach also said the defense needs to improve because he wants his high-octane offense on the field as much as possible.
The Tornadoes will have to replace perhaps the state’s top offensive duo in QB Perci Garner and WR Daniel Ifft, who is now at Ball State. Garner threw for over 8,500 yards, tossed 80 TDs with just 25 INTs and completed 63 percent of his passes. Last year, he had over 4,500 yards with 40 TDs and 15 picks. Ifft finished with 4,277 career receiving yards and 45 scores. He had 114 catches for over 1,800 yards and 20 TDs in 2006. Senior “Mr. Do Everything” Matt Rinehart (5-10, 170) should be the Tornadoes’ top threat this season.
The Eagles lost 22 seniors, including 18 starters, from last year’s playoff team. The biggest loss is QB Jeremy Fudge, who threw for over 6,000 yards the past three years. The team will also have to replace WR Brandon Robinson, who had over 100 receptions the last two years, and K Mike Bolinger, who is at Miami (Ohio) University. Ron Neanen, who enters his 20th season, said his team will be extremely inexperienced and has a bunch of holes to fill, but had a junior-varsity team that was undefeated, which should help fill some of the voids.
|Germantown Valley View (3-7)|
The Spartans are used to 9-1 or 10-0 seasons so it’s a sure bet that 24-year head coach Jay Niswonger will have his team refocused this year. The move up to D-III will be a change and playing five playoff-qualifying teams in the first six games will prove if Valley View is to get back to their usual level of success. LB Zach Pummill (6-3, 230), who is drawing interest from MAC and Ivy League schools, and finished fourth at 215 in the State Wrestling Tournament, is one of the players Niswonger is counting on to help turn things around.
The Eagles will be undergoing a few changes this year. Hubbard graduate Brian Hoffman, who spent the last three years at West Middlesex (Pa.), replaces Jeff Bayuk. Hoffman will be implementing a spread offense. Senior QB Mark Kanetsky (6-0, 190), a three-year starter who broke the school’s passing mark last season with over 1,700 yards, should help make the new transitions easier for the Eagles. Speedster Robert Wigfall, a 5-10, 175-pound RB/CB, will no doubt be Kanetsky’s favorite target and a player Hoffman wants to get the ball to in the revamped offense.
|Monroe Lemon-Monroe (10-2)|
After averaging 44 points per game on offense last year, the Fighting Hornets may even top that mark as 10 starters return on offense. The top guns are senior QB Tyler Osterman (6-2, 175), who threw for 2,569 yards and 33 TDs with just five picks, and RB Jared Ferguson (6-2, 220), who rushed for 1,290 yards and tallied 19 TDs. Fourth-year head coach Jason Krause said, “we are excited about our 2007 season.”
|Lisbon Beaver Local (6-4)|
The Beavers missed the playoffs last year for the first time in five seasons. Head coach Rich Wright, who enters his 10th season, felt last year was a disappointment. By losing just seven seniors and three starters, Wright should see his Beavers return to the level they’re used to. Senior QB Ethan Russell (6-1, 175) is the team’s top offensive weapon. The state qualifier in the 400-meter dash had over 950 yards and 17 TDs last fall. Not only will the team return 18 seniors and 16 starters (eight on both sides of the ball), Beaver Local will be going to more of a spread offense while moving away from the Wing-T and triple option, which should allow Russell to excite fans even more this fall.
|Mentor Lake Catholic (8-5)|
Despite going just 6-4 in the regular season, six-year head coach Mike Bell watched his Cougars notch a pair of playoff victories before falling to Aurora, 24-23, in the Region 9 championship. The Cougars should be primed to have another solid season with several key players back in the fold, including senior OT/NG Chad Hounschell (6-6, 300), who has offers from Colorado, Kansas and Indiana. Junior RB/CB Randy Greenwood (6-1, 180) is also a D-I prospect and had 11 interceptions as a sophomore.
|Newark Licking Valley (9-2)|
Head coach Randy Baughman, who enters his 26th campaign, feels his offensive line should be a strong suit. The Panthers have three seniors – OT Tim German (6-7, 295), OG Donald Houston (6-1, 260) and center Cody Hammond (6-0, 210) – who have started the past two seasons. That could spell bad news for opponents trying to stop junior RB Storm Klein (6-3, 220), who rushed for 1,879 yards and 26 TDs as a sophomore and 1,424 yards as a freshman.
|New Concord John Glenn (7-4)|
The 2006 Muskies were basically a year ahead of schedule. The team was expecting somewhat of an off year, but made a return to the playoffs and stood their ground against Steubenville (26-10) in the opening round of the Region 11 playoffs. The biggest key will be replacing first team all-Ohio K/P/QB/DB Aaron Bates, who is now at Michigan State. However, the Muskies have another top D-I prospect in senior OL Joe Pachuta (6-7, 290), who has already received offers from Maryland and Akron, and will play a vital role in 13-year head coach John Kelley’s Wing-T offense.
|New Philadelphia (8-2)|
The Quakers have dropped from Division II to III and fifth-year head coach Matt Dennison is excited about the move. Not only will his team have a better chance of competing for a playoff berth, but New Philly has 17 starters back in the fold, including the entire offensive line, which blocks for senior QB Jordan Miller (6-3, 215), who recently committed to play football for Akron.
|Niles McKinley (9-2)|
Tim Johnson takes over the Red Dragons after serving four years as an assistant coach under Phil Annarella. One of the biggest obstacles Johnson faces is replacing graduated signal caller Walt Krzeczowski, who will be replaced by senior QB Vince Melillo (6-2, 185). Johnson does have a senior-laden squad, but feels several kids that didn’t play last year will have to step up if the Red Dragons are to return to the postseason.
|St. Marys Memorial (9-3)|
The Roughriders’ ground game should be excellent. Senior RB Koby Frye (5-9, 185) has rushed for over 3,100 yards the last two years and is closing in on the school record of 3,900 yards. The team’s defense should also be a position of strength as nine starters return. Ten-year head coach Doug Frye said his team’s success is going to come down to the evolution of the passing game and the team’s health.
|Sunbury Big Walnut (10-3)|
The Golden Eagles’ defense should be solid once again as nine starters return. Head coach Scott Wetzel, who is back for a 10th season, also has a bunch of talented seniors to rely on, including ATH Ethan Wetzel (6-1, 200), TE/LB Jared Suvak (6-3, 225) and LB Mark Nelson (6-3, 215). All three players are drawing D-I interest. Several coaches have tabbed Big Walnut as one of the favorites in D-III, but the schedule will either make or break the Golden Eagles. Five of their non-league games are against D-I teams and the other contest is against Chillicothe.
|Tiffin Columbian (10-2)|
After five consecutive trips to the playoffs in Division II, the Tornadoes have moved down to D-III. This year, head coach Steve Gilbert will have the tall task of replacing seven starters on offense and eight starters on defense. Ethan Kagy, a special mention all-Ohio RB, Aaron Hurd, a first team Northern Ohio League TE, RB/CB back Matt Bowen, WR/S Anthony Brown and OG Ray Dotson will spearhead the offense.
|Tipp City Tippecanoe (9-2)|
The biggest task 19-year head coach Charlie Burbacher faces is replacing his backfield, which included three-year starters David Strawser (QB), Andrew Ford (RB) and Scott Franzer (RB). The Red Devils will return five players on the offensive side of the ball, which gives Burbacher a nucleus to build around.
|Washington Court House Miami Trace (5-5)|
All eyes will be on senior LB Nathan Williams (6-4, 245), an Ohio State commitment who was also looked at by Michigan State, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, West Virginia, Georgia and Cincinnati. The return of two-year starters – senior WR/DB Ike Garland (5-7, 160), senior WR/DB Nathan Martin (6-0, 165) and WR/DB Trevor Milstead (5-10, 160) is also a plus. The Panthers started 0-5 under 18-year head coach Jeff Conroy, but won five straight, which gives the team momentum heading into the upcoming season.
* Each of these teams will be featured in-depth with detailed information about returning players, the coach's thoughts on the season and schedule information.
The Greenman, which captured the Chagrin Valley Conference title, made their deepest postseason run in school history, but will have to replace several seniors.
|Thornville Sheridan (5-5)|
Despite their worst record under Paul Culver since 1989, the Sheridan Generals did manage to win four of their last five games and are hoping to use that momentum this fall.
All three teams – the Wildcats, Pirates and Hillclimbers – dropped their first round playoff contests last season and will no doubt be looking to take the next step this year.
|Wintersville Indian Creek (5-5)|
Indian Creek was a .500 team in 2007, but has gone 18-12 over the past three years. Of their 12 losses, 11 have been against playoff teams so winning big games will be a key this year.
|Youngstown Liberty (9-2)|
The Comets, Pirates and Leopards all three reached Week 11, respectively. All three squads watched their seasons end that week (Saturday, Nov. 4), but should be poised to make some noise as a new season kicks off.
Others: Akron Coventry (8-3), Rocky River (9-2), Napoleon (7-4), Sandusky Perkins (8-3), Beloit West Branch (6-4), Medina Buckeye (7-3), Poland Seminary (7-3), Circleville (8-3), Lancaster Fairfield Union (8-3)
* Several of these teams will be featured in-depth, detailed information about returning players, the coach's thoughts on the season and schedule information.
|Ted Balser||WR||Cincinnati Indian Hill|
|Bo Cordell||QB||Cincinnati Indian Hill|
|Jared Ferguson||RB/LB||Monroe Lemon-Monroe|
|Koby Frye||RB/DB||St. Marys Memorial|
|Randy Greenwood||RB/CB||Mentor Lake Catholic|
|Chad Houndschell||OT/NG||Mentor Lake Catholic|
|Travis Jackson||WR/DB||Dayton Chaminade-Julienne|
|Storm Klein||RB/LB||Newark Licking Valley|
|Jordan Miller||QB||New Philadelphia|
|Tyler Osterman||QB/S||Monroe Lemon-Monroe|
|Joe Pachuta||OL||New Concord John Glenn|
|Isaiah Pead||RB/DB||Cols. Eastmoor Academy|
|Zach Pummill||QB||Germantown Valley View|
|Teddy Robb||WR/DB||Canal Fulton Northwest|
|Jimmy Shiplett||CB||Canal Fulton Northwest|
|Will Studlien||LB||Sunbury Big Walnut|
|Ethan Wetzel||ATH||Sunbury Big Walnut|
|Nathan Williams||LB/DE/RB||WCH Miami Trace|
|Derek Wolf||OT/DE||Lisbon Beaver Local|
|Canal Fulton Northwest at Orrville|
|Dover at Canton South|
|Dayton Colonel White at Germantown Valley View|
|Poland Seminary at Hubbard|
|Akron Coventry at Garfield Heights Trinity|
|Lemon-Monroe at Plain City Jonathan Alder|
|St. Marys Memorial at Piqua|
|Lancaster Fairfield Union at New Lexington|
|New Concord John Glenn at Barnesville|
|Cuyahoga Falls Walsh Jesuit at Tallmadge|
|Wintersville Indian Creek at Steubenville|
|New Philadelphia at Canton Central Catholic|
|Dayton Chaminade-Julienne at Clayton Northmont|
|Bellefontaine at Wapakoneta|
|Thornville Sheridan at Gallipolis Gallia Academy|
|Canton South at Canfield|
|Mentor Lake Catholic at Cleveland Benedictine|
|Dresden Tri-Valley at New Concord John Glenn|
|Cincinnati Indian Hill at Germantown Valley View|
|Dayton Colonel White at Dayton Chaminade-Julienne|
|Eaton at Trenton Edgewood|
|Rocky River at Garfield Heights Trinity|
|Washington Court House Miami Trace at Circleville|
|Beloit West Branch at Lisbon Beaver Local|
|Williamsport Westfall at Circleville|
|Washington Court House Miami Trace at New Carlisle Tecumseh|
|Chardon at Canal Fulton Northwest|
|Sunbury Big Walnut at Chillicothe|
|Pataskala Watkins Memorial at Lancaster Fairfield Union|
|Akron Coventry at Smithville|
|Germantown Valley View at Lemon-Monroe|
|Lisbon Beaver Local at Poland Seminary|
|Circleville at Williamsport Westfall|
|Cincinnati Turpin at Cincinnati Indian Hill|
|Dover at Canton Central Catholic|
|New Carlisle Tecumseh at Urbana|
|Dublin Coffman at Mentor Lake Catholic|
|Germantown Valley View at Dayton Oakwood|
|Plain City Jonathan Alder at Washington Court House Miami Trace|
|Beloit West Branch at Alliance|
|Chillicothe at Gallipolis Gallia Academy|
|Lisbon Beaver Local at Chardon|
|Lewis Center Olentangy at Sunbury Big Walnut|
|Aurora at Perry|
|Cardinal Mooney vs. Mentor Lake Catholic|
|Canton Central Catholic vs. Bedford St. Peter Chanel|
|Massillon Tuslaw @ Zoarville Tuscarawas Valley|
|Bellaire @ Steubenville Central Catholic|
|Kettering Alter vs. Dayton Carroll|
|Coldwater vs. St. Henry|
|Clarksville Clinton-Massie vs. Washington Court House Miami Trace|
|West Milton Milton-Union vs. Germantown Valley View|
|Sandusky Perkins at Oak Harbor|
|Mentor Lake Catholic at Youngstown Cardinal Mooney|
|Canton South at Canal Fulton Northwest|
|Dayton Oakwood at Eaton|
|Washington Court House Miami Trace at Clarksville Clinton-Massie|
|Germantown Valley View at West Milton Milton-Union|
|Niles McKinley at Canfield|
|St Marys Memorial at Wapakoneta|
|Columbus Bishop Watterson at Cleveland Benedictine|
|Napoleon at Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary|
|Kent Roosevelt at Akron Roosevelt|
|Chillicothe at Ironton|
|Lisbon Beaver Local at Steubenville|
|Cardinal Mooney @ Cleveland Benedictine|
|Akron SVSM @ Walsh Jesuit|
|Canton Central Catholic @ Wooster Triway|
|Coldwater vs. Minster|
|New Lexington vs. Columbus Bishop Hartley|
|Plain City Jonathan Alder vs. Dayton Colonel White|
|Ironton vs. Portsmouth|
|Cardinal Mooney @ Akron SVSM|
|Akron Manchester @ Massillon Tuslaw|
|Canton Central Catholic @ Youngstown East|
|New Lexington @ New Concord John Glenn|
|Martins Ferry @ St. Clairsville|
|West Milton Milton-Union vs. Oakwood|
|Coldwater @ Versailles|
|Plain City Jonathan Alder vs. Columbus St. Charles|
|Cardinal Mooney vs. Youngstown Ursuline|
|Steubenville vs. Canton Central Catholic|
|Akron SVSM @ Hunting Valley University School|
|Orrville @ Mansfield Madison|
|Marion Pleasant @ Cardington Lincoln|
|Bellaire @ Winterville Indian creek|
|Waverly @ Wheelersburg|
|Plain City Jonathan Alder @ Greenfield McClain|
|Oak Harbor @ Huron|
|Cardinal Mooney @ Columbus Bishop Watterson|
|Steubenville vs. Cardinal O'Hara (Pa.)|
|Akron SVSM vs. Youngstown Ursuline|
|Canton Central Catholic @ Louisville St. Thomas Aquinas|
|Oak Harbor vs. Clyde|
|Bellaire vs. Martins Ferry|
|Plain City Jonathan Alder @ Clarksville Clinton-Massie|
|Kettering Alter @ Dayton Chaminade-Julienne|
|Coldwater @ Delphos St. John's|
|West Milton Milton-Union @ Bellbrook|
OHIO HIGH PREDICTION
* Final Four: Mentor Lake Catholic (9), Sunbury Big Walnut (10), Canal Fulton Northwest (11) and Dayton Chaminade-Julienne (12)
* Championship Game: Dayton Chaminade-Julienne over Mentor Lake Catholic