Team To Beat
*Kirtland (15-0, State Champion): The Hornets made a third straight appearance in the state finals and won their second title in three years. Expect them to be in contention again come December. Senior LB/TE Matthew Finkler (6-3, 240) is a JJHuddle Top 100 prospect who had 121 tackles last season and 124 as a sophomore. He also caught 31 passes for 625 yards and seven TDs as a junior and holds an offer from Bowling Green. Senior RB/DE Adam Hess (6-0, 210) returns after rushing for 1,473 yards and 21 TDs and making 44 tackles last year. Hess ran for 950 yards as a sophomore. Senior QB Sam Skiljan (6-0, 190) accounted for 36 TDs and 2,059 yards last season, while two-way senior lineman Dylan Diemer (6-0, 245) was first team All-CVC. Senior RB/DB Jacob Boyd (6-1, 190; 779 total yards, eight TDs, 61 tackles, five INTs) will contribute heavily on both sides of the ball. Head coach Tiger Laverde is 91-12 in eight years.
Teams To Watch
*Brookfield (8-3, Region 19 quarterfinalist): The Warriors have been to the postseason three years in a row and according to head coach Randy Clark (53-42 in nine years): “We’ve got a young team with a ton of Friday night experience. Expectations are high.” Junior QB Augustus Necastro (6-2, 185) is back after throwing for 1,500 yards last season. Also back is his leading receiver, senior Kasey Tingler (5-11, 165). On the lines, look for junior Jacob Jackson (6-6, 300) and sophomore Carmen Furillo (6-0, 230) to open and plug some holes.
*Cleveland VASJ (9-2, Region 19 quarterfinalist): The Vikings went from 1-9 in 2012 to 9-2 last season. This year they should contend for a regional title. VASJ returns a solid offensive casts led by seniors QB Tre’Von Williams (6-3, 200/1,342 yards, 20 TDs), RB Marvelle Ross (5-9, 150/844 yards rushing, 14 TDs, 18 rec., four rec. TDs), OL Kovas Kijauskas (6-5, 280) and OL Erin Williams (5-10, 240). The defense is led by junior DL TreShon Walker (5-11, 220).
*Cuyahoga Heights (6-5, Region 19 quarterfinalist): In head coach Al Martin’s 17 seasons, the Redskins haven’t had a losing season and have been to the playoffs 16 times. This season they must replace eight starters on defense and seven on offense. Senior Craig McDaniel (5-9, 165) takes over at QB after excelling as a WR last season (32 rec., 496 yards, eight TDs). Senior RB Grayson Thacker (5-10, 191) also returns after carrying the ball 68 times for 281 yards and seven TDs. The lines will be anchored by senior two-way standout Chase Kiriazis (6-1, 235). McDaniel (99 tackles, seven TFL and two FRs) returns at SS to lead the defense. Senior TE/DT Will Hopkins (6-2, 185) will contribute heavily.
*Louisville St. Thomas Aquinas (9-2, Region 19 semifinalist): The Knights are trying to reach the postseason four straight years for the first time since doing it from 1983-86. Senior QB/DB Anthony Moeglin (6-1, 190) is one of Ohio’s top signal callers. Last year Moeglin completed 140-of-239 passes for 2,676 yards and 25 TDs. He also ran for three TDs and had 47 tackles and three FF on defense. As a sophomore Moeglin threw for 1,113 yards and 16 TDs and made 54 tackles. Senior WR Evan Vernier (5-7, 145/45 rec., 1,013 yards, 10 TDs) is a key target.
*Loudonville (10-2, Region 16 semifinalist): After a 12-year absence from the playoffs, the Redbirds have made it back-to-back seasons and are eyeing a third. Senior Kolton Edmondson (5-11, 195) ran for over 1,000 yards in seven games as a sophomore and moved to QB last season where he became just the second player in school history to run for 1,000 yards and throw for 1,000 yards. His 1,675 rushing yards set a new school single-season record. Edmondson ran for 25 TDs and threw for 12. Junior Slot/DB Austin VanSickle (5-10, 175) scored five TDs and had four INts last year, while senior WR/FS Tristan Bender (6-1, 200) set a school record for single-season tackles with 142. Seniors Blake Curry (6-2, 245; eight sacks), Kyle Graham (6-1, 225; 50 tackles, 14 TFL) and Joey Atrip (6-3, 225; five TFL) anchor the lines. Junior LB Heath Snyder (6-2, 215; 64 tackles, 13.5 FL, 8.5 sacks) is one to watch. Senior K/WR/DB Tucker Bender (5-9, 175; 53 tackles, three INTs; two TDs) will contribute in all facets. The non-league schedule adds Sparta Highland and also includes Gilmour Academy and Columbus Ready. “As a team our goal is to continue making the annual progression we’ve made over the past two seasons,” head coach Justin Todd (18-5 in two years) said. “With a small school health will be a key for our football season, however the pieces are in place to be successful. Replacing last year’s senior class will be difficult, but our kids have attacked the weight room and off season program with a sense of urgency.”
*McDonald (7-4, Region 19 quarterfinalist): After missing the playoffs two years in a row, the Blue Devils made it for the sixth time in eight years last season. McDonald returns a very talented cast led by senior RB/LB Cameron Ifft (6-2, 200/three-time All-ITC), junior OL/DL Albert Yates (6-2, 285/two-time All-ITC), senior OL/DL Caleb Dimery (6-1, 210/two-time All-ITC) and junior LB Jake Reckeard (6-1, 160/All-ITC)
*Mogadore (11-2, Region 19 finalist): The Wildcats have made the postseason every year since the playoffs expanded to eight teams (1999). Last season Mogadore won its 40th league title. Senior standouts return in DL Andy Owens (6-2, 185), RB Brandon Berry (5-9, 175/1,887 yards, 272 carries, 19 TDs) and P Riley Jones (5-9, 155). Berry broke the school single-game rushing record in the first game last season with 315 yards against Norton.
*Newcomerstown (6-4): The Trojans had their first winning season since 2002 last year and are looking to string together back-to-back winning seasons for the first time in two decades. Four first team All-IVC selections return in OL/DL Darnell Crider-Harris (6-0, 235), QB/DB Austin Zufelt (6-0, 170), RB Bril Dansby (5-9, 190) and OL/LB Kyle Pritchard (5-8, 160). Dansby rushed for 1,768 yards a year ago and is looking to become the school’s all-time leading rusher this season. Zufelt has thrown for over 2,800 career yards.
*South Range (11-1, Region 19 semifinalist): The Raiders must replace seven first team All-ITCL players from last year’s playoff team, but they do return a workhorse in senior RB Joe Alessi (5-9, 175). Alessi ran for 1,721 yards and 27 TDs last year on 186 carries. Also back is senior QB Ryan Miller (6-1, 210) who threw for 1,472 yards and 20 TDs last year.
*Sugarcreek Garaway (6-4): The Pirates are looking to make the playoffs for the third time in four years and for the fourth time ever in program history. Odds are good. Garaway closed last year on a four-game win streak and will look to ride that momentum. Sophomore QB R.J. Jacobs (6-0, 168) returns after throwing for 2,325 yards and 25 TDs and running for 343 yards and seven TDs last year. Also back are a pair of standout senior WRs in Connor Troyer (6-0, 145/52 rec., 1,102 yards, 12 TDs) and Josh Werker (6-0, 165/31 rec., 547 yards, five TDs). Senior OL/DL Austin Yackey (6-0, 230/51 tackles) is a good one. The defense returns senior LB Clay Honigford (6-2, 195/62 tackles), senior LB Tucker Boreman (5-9, 160/60 tackles) and senior DB Ethan Slentz (5-9, 160/40 tackles).
Keep An Eye On
*Atwater Waterloo (2-8): The Vikings are 5-15 the last two years under head coach Nathan Peters and return a solid senior class. Keep an eye on sophomore QB Will Bolanz (6-2, 190).
*Burton Berkshire (4-6): The Badgers return a solid senior trio in LBs Kyle Storm (5-10, 155) and Cody Charvat (5-7, 150) and DB Ben Blechschmid (5-7, 160).
*Dalton (3-7): The Bulldogs return a solid defensive nucleus led by senior LB Jerry Morehart (6-3, 195/121 tackles, 12 TFL). Also back are senior DB Jesse Mann (58 tackles, four FR), senior LB Patrick McGinty (78 tackles, eight TFL), sophomore LB Cody Fitzwater (96 tackles, five FF) and senior DL Tristan Fitzwater (42 tackles, eight TFL).
*Jackson-Milton (6-4): After going 0-10 in 2012, the Blue Jays turned it around last year. This season signals a move back up to the top tier of the ITCL but J-M returns plenty of experienced players to cushion the increase in competition. Junior LB Anthony Italiano (5-9, 205) has made 215 tackles the last two years, while junior SS Adam Smith (5-10, 155) is back after making three INTs. On offense, junior Mike Assion (5-11, 165) moves to QB after making 40 catches last year at WR. Senior OL Brandon Eddinger (5-10, 245) has made 25 starts in three years. Head coach Mark Assion is 20-50 in seven seasons.
*Jeromesville Hillsdale (4-6): The Falcons have made the playoffs three of the last five years but are coming off the worst season of that span. Don’t fret. Plenty returns. Senior playmaker Doug Cline (6-0, 155) is back at DB/WR, while senior RB Corbin Mager (5-10, 185) returns to the backfield after missing several games last year with an ankle injury. Mager set the school record for single-season rushing yards (1,572) as a sophomore.
*New Middletown Springfield (4-6): The Tigers went from 4-6 in 2012 to 7-3 last year. A solid senior group returns led by All-ITC players in TE/DL Mark Schuler (6-4, 220), DB Ryan Kohler (5-11, 160), Austin Snyder and Brian Swansiger.
*West Lafayette Ridgewood (5-5): The Generals return senior RB Zak Donley (6-1, 185).
Also In This Region
Smithville (1-9); Oberlin (2-8); Rootstown (0-10); Rittman (1-9); Greenwich South Central (0-10); New London (6-4); Columbiana (3-7); Newton Falls (1-9); Salineville Southern (2-8); Lisbon David Anderson (3-7)