Team To Beat
*Dayton Chaminade Julienne (6-5, Region 18 quarterfinalist): The Eagles have made the playoffs three times in five years and are poised to add a fourth in six. CJ returns 12 All-GCL players. Offense won’t be an issue. Junior QB Jacob Harrison (6-1, 185; Akron offer) returns after being named the AP Southwest District Offensive Player of the Year as a sophomore after throwing for 2,771 yards and 19 TDs and running for 594 yards and 13 TDs. At WR, two first team All-GCL players return in senior Zach Burneka (6-1, 190; 37 rec., 597 yards, three TDs) and junior Tyler Traylor (6-2, 195; 51 rec., 708 yards, six TDs). On the OL, the Eagles return three second team ALL-GCL seniors in Adam Pendergrass (6-1, 240), Marvin Radford (6-1, 240) and Sam Stidham (6-0, 240). Also back is second team All-GCL junior RB Antwand Wilson (5-10, 220; 154 carries, 565 yards, seven TDs). Defensively, the Eagles allowed 31 points per game last year and will have to shore up that unit to make a serious challenge in the postseason. The good news is, CJ returns three LBs that all earned second team All-GCL honors last year in seniors Davion McKinney (5-10, 190; 86 tackles) and Danny Meyer (6-1, 175; 77 tackles) and junior Josh Simmons (6-2, 210; 77 tackles). All-GCL senior Braxton Horton (5-11, 175; 17 tackles) heads the secondary. Junior K Spencer Dufresne (5-9, 140; 4-for-5 FGs, 39-of-44 PATs) was All-GCL as well.
Teams To Watch
*Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy (11-1, Region 18 semifinalist): The Eagles have made all nine of the program’s playoff appearances in the last 12 years and have gone to the postseason four years in a row. Expectations are high again. Replacing QB Conner Osborne and RB Nick Marsh will be huge tasks, but CHCA has talent on the perimeter. Senior WRs Cam Murray (5-10, 165; 51 rec., 642 yards, six TDs; 26 carries, 148 yards, three TDs) and Bobby Mumma (6-3, 175; 28 rec., 313 yards, four TDs) will be a key threats. The OL is anchored by senior three-year starter Jacob Halter (6-6, 270). Defensively, CHCA features one of the state’s top junior prospects in DE Prince Sammons (6-7, 260) who had 70 tackles and seven sacks last year (his first of organized football). Also back are senior LBs Jonah James (6-0, 190; 175 career tackles) and Mumma (70 tackles). This is just the 18th year for the CHCA program, which is looking for its 15th straight winning season.
*Cincinnati Roger Bacon (4-6): The Spartans return eight All-GCL Central selections, including four first teamers in seniors Andrew Hawkins (DB, 6-1, 170; 103 tackles), Kevin Schnedl (WR, 6-0, 165; 39 rec., 479 yards, four TDs) and Paul Tepe (OL, 6-2, 260) and junior Jordan Williams (WR, 6-0, 170; 34 rec., 445 yards, two TDs). Line play will be a strength as three starters who earned All-GCL honors return.
*Hamilton Badin (10-3, Region 18 finalist): The Rams made the playoffs for the first time in three years last season and are looking to make it back-to-back. Plenty of talent returns, especially in the offensive backfield. Junior QB Zach Larkin (6-4, 180) is back after throwing for 1,399 yards and 15 TDs. Joining him behind the line are senior RB Cody Boxrucker (5-11, 185; 936 yards, 10 TDs) and junior RB Cole Heflin (5-11, 170; 673 yards, seven TDs). The Rams also return their leading WR in junior Philip Dozier (5-10, 170; 27 rec., 510 yards, seven TDs). Defensively, Badin will lean on the All-GCL tandem of junior TE/LB Dominic Valentino (6-4, 230; 46 tackles, 7.5 sacks) and senior DL Dustin Valentino (6-1, 235; 59 tackles).
*Greeneview (6-4): The Rams notched the program’s first winning season since 1999 last season and head coach Neal Kasner (13-17 in four years at Greeneview and 100-62 overall) is optimistic. “It could be a very exciting year for Greeneview,” Kasner said. “We return a lot of offensive fire power. Defense should be athletic and experienced.” The senior star is QB Chance Frye (6-1, 225) who has accounted for 49 TDs the last two years. Keep an eye on seniors Adrian Harding (OT/LB, 6’1, 220), Kyle Gilliam (RB/LB, 5’9, 185, 500 yards rushing), Klay Partin (WR/RB/DB, 6′, 170), Tristian Saunders (WR/DB, 6′, 170), Colten Pfeifer (WR/LB, 6′, 190), Corey Clark (C/DL, 6’5, 310) and Chris Holley (TE/DL, 6’2, 190); juniors Walker Erwin (OL/DL, 6’2, 240), Caleb Green (OL/DL, 6’2, 235) and Logan Reed (RB/LB, 5’10, 190); and sophomore Ethan Bradds, 10, TE/LB, 6’5, 220).
*Mariemont (7-4, Region 18 quarterfinalist): The Warriors return a good one in senior LB Parker Sullivan (5-11, 195) who had 123 tackles and seven sacks last season en route to first team All-Cincinnati Hills League honors. Also back on D is senior LB Drew Serraino (5-7, 130) who had 86 tackles and was second team All-CHL. On offense, Mariemont returns three All-CHL seniors in QB Kane Coates (5-11, 150; 1,381 yards passing, nine TDs), WR Connor Bortz (28 rec., 328 yards and four TDs) and OL Connor Osgood (5-7, 160).
*Preble Shawnee (3-7): The Arrows have suffered seven straight losing seasons after going 5-5 in 2006. That streak could end soon. The junior pass-catch combo of QB Joby Williams (6-0, 170) and Trey Smith (6-2, 180) returns as does a slew of other offense threats. Williams threw for 1,938 yards and 18 TDs last season, while Smith caught 51 passes for 854 yards and 11 TDs. Williams also ran for six TDs. Every player that made a catch for the Arrows last year returns this season, including senior WRs Corey Hooker (5-10, 180; 36 rec., 376 yards, three TDs) and Wyatt Austin (6-3, 185; 35 rec., 449 yards, three TDs). Austin also ran for 489 yards and seven TDs on 67 carries. Senior RB Brendon Frost (5-11, 180) was the team’s leading rusher (142 carries, 718 yards, six TDs). Senior LB Matt Trantanella (6-0, 195; 3.5 sacks, three FF, two FR) and Hooker (three INTs) lead the defense.
*Richwood North Union (10-2, Region 18 semifinalist): The Wildcats made the playoffs for the fifth straight season last year and won the program’s second playoff game. Can they extend the streak to six? Yep. But if they do it will be under new leadership. Nick Hajjar, a former assistant coach at Ohio Northern University, is the head coach and inherits a program that’s won 21 games the last two years. Senior OL/DL Caleb Hudson (6-4, 225) is one of Ohio’s top small school linemen. Senior ATH Jake Blevins (6-0, 190) will log plenty of touches on offense. Other key contributors will be senior LB Jake Hayward and junior RB/LB Nate Hammons.
*Waynesville (8-3, Region 18 quarterfinalist): The Spartans made the playoffs for the sixth time in seven years last season and have high expectations again. “We have a lot of starters returning and feel like our experience should help us advance in the playoffs,” head coach Brandon Philpot (34-10 in four years) said. “The players are working extremely hard and we will be the strongest team we have ever had.” Senior QB Troy Black is a two-time All-SWBL Buckeye Division selection who has thrown for 2,784 yards and 31 TDs the last two years. He’ll get protection from first team All-SWBL OL Jesse Jones (6-3, 245). Senior K Dillon Sarka (5-11, 170; 6-of-8 FGs) is a weapon. Defensively, senior DB Cody Brown (5-9, 170) and LB Jeremiah Stillwell (5-10, 205; 52 tackles) will lead the way. The early season schedule is ambitious with the likes of Clinton-Massie, Franklin, Carlisle and Taft.
*West Jefferson (12-2, Region 18 champion, state semifinalist): The Roughriders have reached the regional final six of the last eight years. This year to reach that plateau again, they’ll have to replace 10 All-Mid-State League players. Offensively, senior WR/DB Mitch Denes (5-11, 175; 24 rec., 306 yards, TD; rushing TD) will get touches, as will junior RB Earl Braithwaite (5-11, 195; 120 carries, 605 yards, 12 TDs). Defensively, junior LB Trevor Fergusen (5-11, 190; 109 tackles 7.5 TFL) and senior LB Tyler Jones (6-1, 175; 66 tackles, 12.5 TFL, 4.5 sacks, three INTs, two FR, FF) spearhead the unit.
Keep An Eye On
*Brookville (5-5): The Blue Devils own 10 playoff appearances but have only been to the postseason twice in the last 13 years. Senior K Derek Day (5-10, 160) returns after making 2-of-3 FGs and 33-of-34 PATs. Senior DB Luke Bricker (6-2, 160) had three INTs last season.
*Clark Montessori (6-4): The Cougars made history last year by putting together back-to-back wining seasons for the first time ever. The goal this year is the program’s first playoff berth. “We have all the athleticism in the world but have yet to put all the pieces together,” head coach Joe Berta said. “We have a number of players that have yet to play a 10-game season, which has limited our depth in really securing our spot in the Miami Valley Conference. We are a very gifted team athletically and have great team speed. After graduating three 3-yr starters off the line, we will reaffirm our identity this year.” Senior RB Xavier Ferguson (6-0, 220) returns after rushing for 650 yards and six TDs en route to All-MVC honors. Also back are All-MVC performers in junior DB Mark Secen (5-10, 160; 45 tackles, three INTs) and sophomore LB Jackson Murphy (6-2, 180). Clark also returns its leading receiver in junior Juwuan Tye (5-11, 165) and a wildcard in sophomore Timone Andrews (5-10, 175) who set school records for longest kick return and rush from scrimmage last season. The Cougars are entering their sixth season as an OHSAA sanctioned varsity program and will square off against rival Gamble Montessori in the first ever Montessori Bowl this season in Cincinnati.
*Cincinnati Purcell Marian (3-7): The Cavaliers snapped a 46-game GCL losing streak in 2012 and won three games last year. Can they continue the climb? Senior RB/DB Mckell Jones (6-3, 200) returns after rushing for 496 yards and six TDs en route to first team All-GCL honors last season. Also back is senior and first team All-GCL OL Thomas Darrah. Senior WR/DB/KR Jair Knox (5-11, 165) contributes in all facets.
*Dayton Northridge (3-7): The Polar Bears started 3-0 last year and then lost seven straight. Junior QB Anthony Carroll (5-11, 170) takes over full-time after seeinf action late last season. Carroll completed 24-of-48 passes for 313 yards and three TDs in a loss to Waynesville. The defense returns three All-SWBL Buckeye Division players in senior DE Lance Kennedy (6-2, 195; 11 sacks ), junior DB Drew Ogletree (6-2, 185; eight sacks, two FF and two INTs) and senior LB Jake Lawson (6-0, 195; nine sacks).
*Maderia (8-3, Region 18 quarterfinalist): The Mustangs made the playoffs for the third year in a row last season. If they stretch it to four, the defense will play a large part. Madeira returns three All-CHL defenders in junior DL Nick Gelhaus (6-2, 260; 48 tackles, 5.5 sacks), senior DB Ryan Welt (6-1, 190; 61 tackles) and junior LB Jake Megois (6-1, 190; 91 tackles, three INTs). Senior QB Colin Voisard (5-9, 180) returns after taking over starting duties in Game 7 and throwing for 651 yards and three TDs in five games.
*Middletown Madison (5-5): The Mohawks return senior QB Randy Davis (6-0, 180; 560 yards passing four TDs), junior RB Zach Friend (5-11, 160; 373 yards, three TDs), senior WR Jesse Jones (6-2, 175; 24 rec., 336 yards, three TDs) and senior OL Josh Kirby (5-11, 200). On defense, junior DB KC Lindon (5-11, 170; three INTs; first team All-SWBL) and senior LB Dakota Powell (6-1, 180; second team All-SWBL) return.
*Milton-Union (2-8): The Bulldogs went from 10 wins in 2012 to two last year. Senior OL Andrew Lynn (6-4, 230) is a two-time All-SWBL selection. Seniro RB Chase Martens is the team’s leading returning rusher (545 yards, four TDs).
*Reading (5-5): The Blue Devils return senior QB Eric Wachendorf who threw for 638 yards and four TDs in the last three games last season. Senior DL Eric King (6-1, 200; 108 tackles, seven sacks, two FF, two FR) is a beast.
Also In This Region
Cincinnati Shroder (6-4); North College Hill (4-6); Springfield Northeastern (3-7); Clermont Northeastern (1-9); Bethel-Tate (1-9); Blanchester (4-6); East Clinton (3-7); Finneytown (1-9); Deer Park (1-9)