By Mike Dyer
First year head coach, first home playoff game, first regional title, first state semifinal, first state final, first…
Loveland football coach Fred Cranford sat in his office Wednesday afternoon and reflected on how momentous his first season has been this fall with the Tigers.
The northern Cincinnati suburb is gushing with pride and anticipation with signs all around the picturesque neighborhoods leading to the high school.
Loveland (14-0) will make its first state football final appearance at 7 p.m. Friday against Cleveland Glenville (13-1) in the Division II state championship game at Fawcett Stadium.
Cranford has instructed his players to enjoy the moment. Loveland will have a community pep rally this week before departing Thursday night for Canton where it will take in a trip to the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Friday.
Cranford, a former Middletown Bishop Fenwick coach and alum, took the Loveland position earlier this year and has inherited a strong program from former coach Andrew Marlatt, who left to take an assistant coaching position at Miami University.
Still, as Cranford pointed out Wednesday, the players made a significant commitment to be in this position. Countless hours of coaching have produced results.
Cranford said Loveland is concentrating on what it needs to do especially with its effective Wing-T offense, which frustrates defenses, and an attacking style defense, which surrenders an average of seven points. But he understands playing a program like Glenville brings an added dimension with name recognition because of its current and past high-profile scholarship players.
“To be the best you got to play the best,” Cranford said.
Cranford said the team is also aware of the hopes and dreams of the Loveland community – several players have played since youth leagues and have an attachment to the town in a special way. Cranford had 20-30 different areas Fenwick drew from while he was coaching there so the Greater Catholic League program was more of a regional team.
Cranford is nothing but pleased with the Loveland program and said the sign of support from the town has been clear.
“It’s been an incredible week to be a Tiger,” Cranford said. “There’s a lot of enthusiasm and pride around the halls of Loveland High School. I think this community and our kids have really taken it one day a time and they are very excited to travel up to Canton as a community.”
Loveland had its first 10-0 regular season since 1972, hosted its first playoff game, won its first regional title and made its first state semifinal.
The Tigers are currently second in the National Guard JJHuddle Ohio High School Team of the Year voting.
The school adorned posters and signs around the school Wednesday including a “Band of Brothers” poster with several players in the photo.
That mantra has especially paid off the past two weeks – in heart-stopping fashion.
Loveland rallied twice – once in a win over Mount Healthy and then in a double overtime 38-35 win over AP top-ranked Zanesville last week – just the fourth double overtime state semifinal game in OHSAA history.
Loveland athletic director Julie Renner said she expects over 3,000 Loveland fans will attend this Friday’s game and hopes this won’t be a one-time trip for the program. Several underclassmen return next season and the school already has an expectation for a deep postseason run in the foreseeable future.
COLLEGE RECRUITING: College programs are already looking intently at the 2016 class around the Cincinnati area and clearly all eyes appear to be on Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy defensive end/tight end Prince Sammons, who is 6 feet 8 and 260 pounds. Akron and Illinois offered him on Wednesday. Cincinnati was his first offer earlier this season. Alabama and Ohio State are among others have shown interest.
STARK COUNTY: As JJHuddle contributor Tim Rogers pointed out in his column Tuesday, the state football finals will conclude a 24-year run in Stark County on Saturday night and move to Ohio Stadium in 2015 and 2016. While the OHSAA hasn’t worked out details yet on the schedule for the games, it will be over three days like this year. The Enquirer reported this week Sunday might be a possibility too for the state final once it reaches Ohio Stadium. Stay tuned.