Team To Beat
*Berlin Center Western Reserve (13-1, Region 23 champion, state semifinalist): The Blue Devils have reached the state semifinals two of the last three years and should contend for the program’s seventh straight postseason berth. Western Reserve returns four OL starters in junior Jess Bowman (6-1, 285), senior Hunter Powell (6-4, 350), junior T.J. Henry (5-11, 225) and senior Matt Mace (6-2, 335). Also returning are senior RB Evan Nesbit (5-10, 170) and senior WR Joe Falasca (6-5, 190; 1,000 yards receiving).
Teams To Watch
*Ashland Mapleton (6-5, Region 23 quarterfinalist): The Mounties earned the program’s second playoff berth and first since 1991 last season. Back from that squad are senior standout RB Travis Pickering (5-11, 175) and WR Connor Black (5-10, 170). Pickering is a four-year starter who was first team AP All-Ohio last year. He’s a two-time All-Firelands Conference selection that’s run for 2,739 yards and 31TDs the last two years. He’s also made 206 tackles as a SS. Black, a two-time All-Ohioan and All-Firelands Conference pick, has 1,780 career receiving yards and 24 TDs.
*Garfield Heights Trinity (4-7, Region 23 quarterfinalist): The Trojans reached the postseason despite winning just four games and must replace 15 starters. Junior QB Kyle McSweeney (6-3, 180) is a key returner having thrown for 1,200 yards and 14 TDs last season. Also back are senior RB/DB Brett Dawson (5-10, 180), senior WR/DB Kevin Wodzisz (6-2, 185), junior OL/DL Jonathan Vasey (5-10, 240) and junior OL/DL Charlie Draucker (6-0, 265). This is head coach Jeff MCSweeney’s third year as head coach (9-22) and the program’s 40th season overall.
*Norwalk St. Paul (11-2, Region 23 finalist): Veteran head coach John Livengood has a record of 212-62 with 15 playoff appearances in 22 years. He’ll have another solid team this fall. Junior LB Jaret Nickoli (5-9, 165) is one of the state’s top small school defenders and is a two-time first team All-Firelands Conference selection. Senior DB Wes Fritz is a two-time All-Firelands performer as well.
*Plymouth (5-5): The Vikings have gone 5-5 three years in a row. This is a season many have been aiming for. Senior TE Tyrell Edminston (6-3, 210) returns as does senior LB Chance Butcher (5-8, 170). Both are two-time All-Firelands Conference selections. Also back is senior QB Hunter Bailey who was all-conference as a sophomore. Ending strong will be key. Plymouth was 5-1 last year before ending with four straight defeats.
*Warren JFK (2-8): After losing just two games in 2012, the Eagles won just two last year. JFK returns senior QB Michael Roscoe (5-11, 180).
Keep An Eye On
*Southington Chalker (5-5): The Wildcats will lean heavily on senior WR/DB Justin Len (5-10, 165) who caught 26 passes for 370 yards and five TDs last year. He also made 34 tackles ad had two INTs.
*Lowellville (6-5, Region 23 quarterfinalist): The Rockets had their first winning season in 10 years last season and reached the playoffs for the first time since 2002. Head coach Jeff D’Altorio (starting Year 4) welcomes back senior QB Alex Harklerode (6-0, 180; 820 rushing yards, 11 TDs; 684 passing yards, seven TDs) and two-way senior standout TB/WR/DB Phil Ginnis (6-0, 275; 384 yards rushing, four TDs; five INTs). Seniors Michael Overson (6-0, 200) and Chris Inskeep (5-9, 230) are three-year starters at LB/OL. Senior WR Van Vanover (5-11, 160) caught four TD passes last season.
*Lucas (4-6): Head coach Scott Spitler (17-33 in five years) welcomes back nine starters on offense, seven on defense and his punter and kicker. Seven home games also work in the Cubs favor. The concerns are replacing the team’s top two tacklers and two starters on the OL. Look for senior OL/DL and four-year starter Dalton Dennison (6-3, 315) to anchor both lines. Junior RB Mason Galco (5-11, 175) also returns after rushing for over 1,100 yards last season en route to All-Mid-Buckeye Conference honors.
*Richmond Heights (4-6): The Spartans have two nice building blocks in senior offensive linemen Landon Scott (6-3, 240) and Anthony Titus (6-2, 250).
*Steubenville Catholic Central (9-3, Region 25 semifinalist): The Crusaders are coming off back-to-back playoff appearances but must find a replacement for four-year starting QB and record-setter Brenton Colabella. Senior LB Chris Murphy (6-0, 160) leads the D.
*Toronto (5-5): The Red Knights return three skilled juniors in QB Blaze Glenn (5-9, 165), LB Cody King (5-7, 155) and LB Drew Lowery (5-01, 170).
*Wellsville (9-3, Region 23 semifinalist): The Tigers made the playoffs for the second time in three years and fourth time overall last year but must replace five first team All-ITCL players. They do return junior starting QB Zack Mellott who was first team all-league last year. Senior OL Seth Bloor and junior LB Vinnie Giordano will contribute heavily.
*Windham (3-6): The Bombers return a core group of players from there 3-6 season. Of there 6 losses last year 3 of the 6 were by less then one score. Talented Quarterback Parker Rickey returns to lead the Bombers his senior year. Parker is one of the most talented players in this region. The Bombers also return Dillon Blewitt a 4 year running back who could breakout. The Bombers should be near the top in the NAC and could make a push for the D7 playoffs. Returning 4 of 5 linemen on the offensive side of the ball should help as well. The Bombers did beat Chalker who made the playoffs last year so they have something to build on. If Windham stays healthy they could be dangerous.
*Youngstown Christian (2-7): The Eagles had a string of two straight playoff appearances snapped last year when a tough schedule (five losses to playoff teams) created a roadblock. Senior standout WR Darien Townsend (5-10, 175) returns.
Also In This Region
Sandusky St. Mary Central Catholic (3-7); Newbury (0-9); Thompson Ledgemont (1-9); Sebring McKinley (3-7); East Canton (2-8); Mineral Ridge (5-5); Cleveland Heights Lutheran East (0-10); Fairport Harding (1-9); Monroeville (1-9); Elyria Open Door Christian (1-6); Leetonia (2-8); Vienna Mathews (5-5). Ashtabula St. John (0-0, varsity program returns after hiatus), Cleveland Whitney Young (0-0, new OHSAA program)