Team To Beat
*Mechanicsburg (11-3, State Semifinalist): The state’s biggest surprise last year? Could very well have been the Indians. Mechanicsburg went 4-6 in 2012 and missed the playoffs for the fourth straight season. Last year all they did was win seven more games and the regional title. Another could be in line. “We return a lot of experience off of last year’s team so the expectations are very high,” head coach Kurt Forrest (22-22 in four years) said. “If we can replace the leadership from last year’s team with more great leaders we will be in good shape. At the end of the day it’s the teams that come together as one, and are willing to sacrifice for one another that enjoy the most success, so our goal is to become that type of team.” Building blocks include senior RB Aeryton Erwin (5-8, 170; 313 carries, 2,193 yards, 29 TDs), sophomore QB Kaleb Romero (5-8, 160; 1,118 yards passing, 13 TDs, 888 yards rushing, nine TDs) and senior OL Brandon Woodruff (6-4, 305; first team AP All-Ohio). Senior TE Tim Rader (6-0, 175; nine rec., 170 yards, four TDs) is a top target. On defense, Romero (92 tackles, three INTs, 3.5 TFL) headlines a unit that also features senior LB Joe Ziegler (5-8, 160; 91 tackles) and junior LB David Harvey (6-2, 170; 65 tackles, 11 TFL, 3.5 sacks). Keep an eye on senior LB Dillon Hurst (6-1, 200) who started as a sophomore but missed last season due to injury. Week 1 the Indians travel to West Jefferson in a meeting of 2013 state semifinalists.
Teams To Watch
*Ada (9-4, Region 20 finalist): The Bulldogs made the playoffs for the eighth straight season last year. Offensive line play will be a strength with the return of first team All-Northwest Conference seniors Levi Bass and Noah Beach and honorable mention selection Justin Shoemaker (junior). Beach was also first team All-NWC at DL. Other standouts in the front seven include senior DL Lane Nitchie and junior LB Blake Ansley. The question is who will step up at the skill positions. Veteran head coach Bob Olwin (Sherwood Fairview and Versailles) returns for his second season.
*Anna (4-6): The Rockets have been tabbed by several MAC coaches as one of the best teams in the league heading into August. Senior RB Christiaan Williams (5-10, 215), a two-time All-MAC selection, returns after rushing for 1,132 yards and 10 TDs on 175 carries. Opening holes will be senior OL/DL Chandler Cotterman (6-5, 280), a two-time All-MAC performer, who has committed to Toledo. Cotterman is the program’s first ever D-I football recruit. Other key returners include All-MAC players in senior TE/LB Wes Showalter (6-4, 220), senior QB/DB Ryan Counts (6-0, 190) and senior OL/DL Shaun Wenrick (6-3, 300).
*Casstown Miami East (10-2, Region 22 semifinalist): The Vikings made history last year when they won their first playoff game (in four trips). This year they hope to make more by reaching the postseason for the third straight time. Offense will be a strength. Leading rusher Colton McKinney (5-11, 185, sr.) returns after rushing for 749 yards and eight TDs. Senior QB Conner Hellyer (6-2, 170) also returns after becoming just the second player in program history to throw for over 1,000 yards in a season. Hellyer completed 86-of-146 passes for 1,344 yards and 15 TDs last season en route to earning first team All-CCC honors. Junior TE Braxton Donaldson (6-3, 230) is a big target (11 rec., 195 yards). Head coach Max Current (75-80 in 15 years) also returns three starters on the offensive line. Concerns are the receiving corps and just two starters back on defense. “We need to find some players for our quarterback to throw too,” Current said. “We also need for some youngsters to step up on the offensive line. We need to find some players who can get the job done on defense in a hurry.” Senior DE Joey Yager (5-11, 200; 25 tackles) and junior LB Caden Hellyer (5-11, 185; 100 tackles) will lead the D. Miami East always opens with Miami County rival Milton-Union, which it beat for the first time since 2001 last season.
*Cincinnati Country Day (10-1, Region 22 quarterfinalist): The Indians earned the program’s 12th playoff berth last season and are looking to add No. 13. CCD has the horses. Junior RB/DB Darryn Jordan (6-1, 195) is as versatile as they come. Jordan ran for 1,035 yards and 13 TDs and caught 10 passes for 214 yards and three TDs last season. He also returned two of his three INTs for TDs and scored on a punt return. Senior OL Mantero Moreno-Cheek (6-4, 250) and Will Koustmer (6-0, 185) are two good ones. Senior QB Cameron Alldred (6-1, 210) threw for 967 yards and 13 TDs and ran for three TDs last season.
*Cincinnati Summit Country Day (9-3, Region 22 finalist): The Silver Knights have been to the playoffs four straight seasons and are poised to make it a fifth. Head coach Mike Brown (27-8 in three years) welcomes back a solid nucleus led by senior WR/CB CJ Suggs (6-0, 160), senior FB/LB Brooks Taylor (5-10, 165), senior TE/P Cole Bush (6-3, 205) and junior OL/DL Davionne Laney (6-0, 20). Paint Valley is a new Week 1 opponent. “With 11 seniors graduating from a program that averages 30-35 players freshman through seniors, we’ll be a very young team,” Brown said. “But, we have a tough group of seniors who know how to win and are poised to have a great senior year.”
*Minster (6-4): The Wildcats had a string of three straight playoff berths snapped despite some solid showings. Minster won four of its last five games and only lost to four playoff teams (Fort Loramie, Lehman Catholic, Coldwater and Delphos St. John’s). Head coach Geron Stokes enters his second year at the school and will rely heavily on senior and returning first team All-MAC TE Eli Wolf (6-4, 202; 48 rec., 907 yards, nine TDs). Wolf holds an offer from Eastern Michigan. Additional All-MAC performers return in senior RB Sam Dues (5-10, 168; 987 yards rushing, 11 TDs; 57 tackles), senior OL/DL Hayden Schindler (6-4, 275), junior WR/DB Jacob Dues (6-2, 172; five INTs) and junior QB Josh Nixon (6-0, 175; 139-256, 2,161 yards, 21 TDs).
*National Trail (8-3, Region 22 quarterfinalist): Under the direction of head coach Tony Sonsini (15-16 in three years), the Blazers have had a memorable run. A year after notching the program’s first winning record in 16 years, the Blazers earned the program’s first playoff berth ever. Now for the encore. Senior QB Garrett Griffin (6-4, 180) is one of Ohio’s top signal callers. In two years, Griffin has set every school single game, season and career passing record. He has 5,210 career passing yards and 54 TDs. He tied a state record with nine TDs in one game a year ago. Other key contributors are senior WR/DB Phillip White (5-10, 165; 39 rec., 805 yards, 10 TDs), senior OL/DL Josh Baker (6-4, 320) and senior LB/FB Zach Sullivan (6-0, 170; 143 tackles, 13 TFL, state wrestling placer). “We look to continue the improvement of our program,” Sonsini said. “It was in a bad place for a long time (12-88 before 2012 season and 14-7 since). We feel like we should have another strong class of seniors to lead the way in making that happen. Our next step is to expect to win and act like we have done it before.”
*Tri-County North (7-4, Region 22 quarterfinalist): The Panthers seniors have been to the playoffs three years in a row and will challenge to become the first class in school history to reach the postseason all four years. Senior RB/LB Colton Booth (5-11, 190), junior LB Garrett Woodyeard (511, 175) and senior DE Blake Lawson (5-10, 175) earned All-CCC honors last season.
*West Liberty-Salem (10-3, Region 22 finalist): The Tigers have been in the playoffs eight of the last 10 seasons. Key returners this season include senior LB Ben Burden (6-0, 190), junior QB Brandon Upton and senior WR Landon Williams.
*Williamsburg (7-4, Region 22 quarterfinalist): After going 3-7 in 2012, the Wildcats made the playoffs for the fourth time in school history and for the first time since 2001 last season. Expectations suddenly linger. Williamsburg returns a talented nucleus in senior RB/LB Mason Hall (6-0, 175; 1,442 yards, 12 TDs; 77 tackles), senior DL Jared Spurlock (6-1, 200; 47 tackles), junior LB Kurt Meisberger (5-9, 205; 87 tackles) and junior DB Spencer Clowery (5-5, 150; 77 tackles). Look for senior Austin Horn to step in at QB. Horn scored seven TDs last year at WR and also made 43 tackles (with three INTs) as a DB.
Keep An Eye On
*Fayetteville-Perry (7-2): The Rockets are coming off a big turnaround having gone 2-8 in 2012. Can they maintain momentum?
*Milford Center Fairbanks (2-8): The Panthers are coming off their first season in the Mid-Ohio Athletic Conference and must replace four All-MOAC players. Fairbanks welcomes back senior DL Jimmy Carpenter (6-0, 220; 66 tackles, 16 TFL, six sacks).
*New Lebanon Dixie (2-8): The Greyhounds return senior QB Justin Leonard who threw for 1,020 yards and 10 TDs last season.
*Parkway (3-7): The Panthers started 3-2 last year after going 0-10 in 2012. Key returners include senior WR/LB Ryan Lautzenheiser (6-1, 180; 59 tackles) and senior OL/DL Adam Stutz (6-1, 225). Both were All-MAC last year.
*St. Henry (4-6): Second year head coach Brad Luthman will look to carry over the momentum of a three-game winning streak to end last season (Parkway, Fort Recovery and Versailles). The Redskins return All-MAC players in senior DE/OL Adam Guggenbiller (5-10, 195; 66 tackles, four sacks) and junior RB/CB Jesse Niekamp (6-1, 180; 183 carries, 854 yards, 10 TDs).
*Tipp City Bethel (4-6): The Bees have a new head coach (and a good one) in alumnus Scott Clodfelter who left Beavercreek and the rugged GWOC Central Division. Clodfelter led the Beavers to their first league title in 30 years in 2012.
*Twin Valley South (5-5): Several coaches have tabbed the Panthers a team to watch. They return two first team All-Cross County Conference players in senior QB Wes Cole (6-2, 195) and senior TE/LB James Cottingim (6-1, 220).
*Versailles (3-7): The Tigers are looking for their first winning season since 2011 and must find a replacement for graduated QB Nick Campbell, a three-time All-MAC performer. “Offensively and defensively, we have some linemen returning, but have some big holes to fill at the skill positions,” head coach Adam Miller (8-12 in two years) said. “The lower levels of our program have had success and we are looking for them to step up into the holes that we need to fill.” Versailles returns two All-MAC players in senior FB/LB Kyle Dieringer (6-0, 200; 97 tackles; 43 carries, 445 yards, two TDs) and senior WR/DB Jace Barga (5-11, 145; 16 rec., 220 yards; 83 tackles).
Also In This Region
Arcanum (5-5), Madison Plains (3-7), Tipp City Bethel (4-6), Cincinnati Oyler (0-10), New Bremen (0-10), St. Bernard-Elmwood Place (3-6), Dayton Christian (1-9)