Team To Beat
*Columbus Hartley (13-2, D-V State Runner-Up): Head coach Brad Burchfield enters his seventh season at Hartley and has the Hawks humming. Hartley has won regional titles three of the last four years and was D-IV state champ in 2010. Last season they were D-V state runner-up. Expectations are through the roof – again. Seven starters return on each side of the ball, although there will be plenty of new contributors. Two-way senior lineman Tayron Washington (6-4, 240) and senior LB/RB Cavell Bennett (5-11, 185) will garner attention. Keep an eye on sophomore QB Jacob Ruby. He could become very special. Hartley has won a program record four straight Central Catholic League titles and owns one of Ohio’s toughest schedules. The Hawks open with defending Michigan state champion Muskegon Catholic and then face Coldwater in a rematch of last year’s D-V state final. After that games with Marion-Franklin, Thurgood Marshall, Watterson, Columbus DeSales and rival Ready loom. “We have high expectations each and every year at Hartley,” said Burchfield who is five wins shy of 100 for his career. “Our kids have a realistic expectation to compete to be the very best in Ohio. We know that there will be ups and downs, and how we navigate those momentum swings will determine our level of success. Our mantra this year is ‘RIGHTNOW!’ which emphasizes the sense of urgency within the team and the program.”
Teams To Watch
*Baltimore Liberty-Union (9-3, Region 17 semifinalist): The Lions have gone 20-6 the last two years with back-to-back playoff appearances. If they’re to compete in the rugged MSL Buckeye Division again this season and for another playoff berth, several new faces will have to step up. LU returns four starters on each offense and defense. Head coach Dan Johnson is gone (retired) after 30 years at the school.
*Ironton (3-7): The Tigers have been to the playoffs 30 times and five of the last six years. Key senior returners are OL Isaac Sherman (6-5, 290), QB Tristan Cox (6-0, 180) and WR Joe Bowling (6-3, 205).
*Martins Ferry (10-2, Region 17 semifinalist): The Purple Raiders made the playoffs last season and are looking to go back-to-back. Ferry returns standout junior RB Arjay Burress (5-11, 195/first team All-OVAC), senior WR Jake Barritt (5-7, 150/first team All-OVAC), senior DL Bruce Burger (5-11, 206/first team All-OVAC) and senior WR/DB Jack Fitch (HM All-OVAC).
*St. Clairsville (9-2, Region 17 quarterfinalist): The Red Devils have been in the playoffs seven of the last eight years. Excellence is a standard now. To maintain it St. C will lean on senior WR/DB Malik Gummer (5-9, 150/1,023 all-purpose yards, nine total TDs) and junior FB/LB Jake Stewart (6-3, 195/152 tackles) who were both first team All-OVAC last season. Junior LB Brendan Ferns (6-3, 220/138 tackles) holds offers from Virginia, Minnesota, Kentucky, West Virginia, Cincinnati, Ohio, North Carolina State, Kent State, Maryland, Pittsburgh, Michigan State, Oklahoma, Ohio State and Penn State.
*Wheelersburg (11-2, Region 17 finalist): The Pirates made the playoffs for the 25th time last season and this year hope to make it 26. Wheelersburg returns 15 starters but replacing QB Eddie Miller will be a huge task. In line to do so are senior Austin May (6-0, 165) and junior Kyle Davis (5-11, 165). Senior two-way lineman Mitchell Warner (6-2, 235) is a beast. He had 65 tackles and seven sacks last season. “A good core of the 2013 team is back and understands what it takes to win and will be ready for each and every game in 2014,” head coach Rob Woodward (54-16 in six seasons) said. “Seniors will outnumber the underclassmen on the field for the first time in a while at Wheelersburg and will play a huge part in our ability to ‘Find a Way to Win.’” Sophomore kicker Daylon Lewis was 55-of-58 on PATs last year. Junior RB/DB Chasen Burk (6-1, 165) will contribute heavily.
Keep An Eye On
*Chillicothe Zane Trace (5-6, Region 17 quarterfinalist): The Pioneers have one of the state’s top small school defenders in junior LB/DE Truman Love (5-11, 210) who has registered over 100 tackles two years in a row. Senior OL/DL Walt Pretzel (6-3, 265) anchors both units.
*Mount Gilead (3-7): The Indians return senior RB Joseph Elson (5-8, 160).
*Piketon (4-6): The Redstreaks return a good one in senior DL Aaron Southworth (6-4, 200).
*Portsmouth (3-7): The Trojans return senior QB Sky Oliver (5-11, 180) who became the starter in Week 5 last season and threw for 1,393 yards and 15 TDs. He also ran for five scores.
*Proctorville Fairland (7-4, Region 17 quarterfinalist): The Dragons earned their first playoff berth since 2003 and third overall last season. For an encore they’ll try to become the first team to reach the postseason two years in a row. Fairland returns a solid senior nucleus led by QB Chance Short (6-2, 175), RB/DB Nathan Campbell (5-10, 170;3,171 career all-purpose yards, 40 TDs, eight INTs), LB Dylan Murphy (6-2, 170) and OL/DL Tyler Campbell (6-4, 250).
*South Point (7-3): The Pointers made a six-game improvement last season after finishing 1-9 in 2012.
*Union Local (3-7): The Jets have one of the state’s top senior OL prospects in Colton McKivitz (6-7, 24) who has verballed to Miami (Oh.).
*Westfall (5-6, Region 17 quarterfinalist): The Mustangs return senior QB Cole Hardin (5-10, 195) who threw for 1,439 yards and ran for 14 TDs last season.
Also In This Region
Albany Alexander (1-9); Frankfort Adena (5-5); Chillicothe Southeastern (4-6); McDermott Northwest (3-7); Portsmouth West (5-5); Waverly (3-7); Johnstown-Northridge (2-8); West Muskingum (0-10); Coshocton (2-8); Bidwell River Valley (1-9); Wellston (4-6); Rock Hill (1-9); Chesapeake (2-8)