The Greater Western Ohio Conference Central Division planted four of its six teams in the Division I, Region 4 playoffs last season. Hard to believe? Yes. A big reason? Non-conference scheduling. Unafraid to play anyone, anywhere, the GWOC will again face another non-conference slate featuring St. Ignatius, Moeller, Glenville, Canton McKinley, Pickerington Central and several more of the state’s finest.
Last year four of the six teams in the Greater Western Ohio Conference Central Division made the Division I, Region 4 football playoffs: Centerville, Huber Heights Wayne, Clayton Northmont and Kettering Fairmont.
Don’t think it was luck.
In a Region long – and still – dominated by Cincinnati’s top schools, the Miami Valley’s top Division I teams are gaining thanks in part to great coaches and athletic director’s willing to take a chance on scheduling monster games against the state’s big boys.
Take Week 3 for example. That Friday, September 11, there will be several statewide games of note within 19 miles of each other. Centerville hosts Cincinnati Moeller, while Wayne hosts Cleveland Glenville. In Kettering, Fairmont hosts Lakota West.
A week before that Northmont plays at Cleveland St. Ignatius, while Springfield travels to Pickerington Central.
Both Centerville and Wayne have made names for themselves statewide with multiple playoff trips, extensive traditions, numerous NFL alumni and active players and appearances in the Division I state championship game.
The Elks lost to Cleveland St. Ignatius 24-21 in the 1991 D-I state championship, while the Warriors fell to the Wildcats 24-10 in 1999.
Wayne’s run to the state championship marked current head coach and athletic director Jay Minton’s second season. Minton, who first grabbed regional noteriety in Ohio for having been the head coach of former Ohio State quarterback Steve Bellisari at Boca Raton (Fla.) High School, has since earned a reputation for turning out NFL players and big-time D-I recruits. Former Buckeye Will Allen (Tampa Bay Buccaneers) is already in the NFL and two other former Warriors were drafted this year: Ohio State’s Marcus Freeman (Chicago Bears) and UC’s Mike Mickens (Dallas Cowboys).
This season the Warriors open against Princeton before playing at Canton McKinley and hosting Cleveland Glenville.
Minton took over at Wayne for longtime head coach Mike Schneider, whose son Lance has performed magic as the head coach at Northmont. With his father on the staff, Lance Schneider has rebuilt the T-Bolts program. Schneider has led Northmont to seven of its eight playoff appearances in school history and the T-Bolts have won seven straight GWOC titles (one in Central Division and three each in the West and North divisions prior).
Northmont opens the season against Lakota West and then faces the defending state champion Wildcats in Week 2. In Week 3, the T-Bolts head to Westerville South.
Did we mention Northmont scrimmages Cincinnati St. Xavier?
Fairmont earned its first playoff berth last year and has plenty of talent returning. Head coach Brian Blevins’ squad opens with archrival Kettering Alter, the defending Division IV state champions, before hosting Lakota West in Week 3 in a battle of the “Firebirds.”
Centerville, the home of A.J. Hawk (Green Bay) and Mike Nugent (Tampa Bay), opens with Lakota East and then faces Mason before its showdown with Moe.
Ullery, a longtime coordinator who took over for the legendary Bob Gregg in 2000, also serves as the schools athletic director. The football schedule is no accident.
The Elks have played Princeton, St. Xavier, Middletown and Byrnes (S.C) in recent years.
Next season Centerville and St. Ignatius start a home-and-home series.
Said Ullery: “I don’t think anyone can accuse the GWOC of scheduling patsies.”
Or shying away from competition.