Team To Beat
*Coldwater (13-2, State Champions): The Cavaliers have been in five straight state finals, have won two straight state titles and own the state’s longest current playoff streak (17 seasons). Welcome to the MAChine. “We’re cautiously optimistic going into the season with several players returning from last years state champ,” head coach Chip Otten (50-10 in fur years) said. “ We lose a few big play guys, but have some young guys to fill those spots along with (senior QB) Brody Hoying. This is the most depth we have had maybe ever with our offensive and defensive lines. Looking forward to the challenge of trying to win the league and make it into the playoffs.” Hoying, the reigning JJHuddle Ohio National Guard Offensive Player of the Year was also tabbed the Midwest Athletic Conference, AP All-Northwest District and AP D-V Ohio Offensive Player of the Year last season after finishing the season with 1,858 yards rushing and 33 TDs and 1,903 yards passing and 21 TDs. He also had 89 tackles and four INTs as a DB. In addition to Hoying, the Cavs return several other strong seniors including DL Mitch Fullenkamp (5’10, 200; 113 tackles, nine sacks), WR/DB Derek Thobe (6’2, 170; 17 rec., two TDs, five INTs), OL/DE Nick Clune (6’2, 200; 56 tackles, nine sacks), OL Caleb Madaj (6″0, 270), OL Blake Spangler (5’9, 230), LB Jake Schmidt (5’10, 180; 101 tackles) and LB CJ Siebert (5’8, 160; 92 tackles, three sacks, four FF). Keep an eye on junior OL Andy Brunet (6-6). Coldwater opens with Kenton and Hartley before beginning MAC play. Said Otten: “We need a win in the first two games to keep our playoff dreams alive.” Insiders think this team will rival the Cavs 2005 and 2007 squads as the best in program history. You read that right.
Teams To Watch
*Chippewa (9-3, Region 16 semifinalist): The Chipps had a remarkable turnaround last year. After going 1-9 in 2012, Chippewa made the postseason and won a playoff game before losing to Coldwater. Junior QB/DB Bailey Breitenstine (5-9, 165) returns after throwing for 22 TDs and rushing for nine more. He also had five INTs. Other key returners include senior LB/RB Nick Zollinger (nine rushing TDs, 78 tackles) and senior WR/DB Austin Durbin (5-6, 160/five INTs; four return TDs).
*Columbia Station Columbia (10-1, Region 16 quarterfinalist): The Raiders are coming off the best two-year stretch in program history (20-3) but must replace a lot of talent that fueled that run. One key returnee is senior OL Brandon Heidecker (6-6, 280) who became the program’s first D-I recruit ever when he committed to Toledo in April .
*Elyria Catholic (6-4): The Panthers should contend for the program’s 15th playoff berth. Senior RB Justin Rankin (5-10, 190) is one of the state’s most explosive players and holds offers from Toledo, Buffalo, Ball State and Western Michigan. He rushed for 1,348 yards and scored 18 TDs last season (rushing, receiving and returns) after accounting for 1,200 total yards as a sophomore.
*Liberty-Benton (9-1, Region 16 quarterfinalist): The Eagles lost six first team All-BVC selections but return workhorse senior RB Austin Combs (6-1, 22) who ran for 1,206 yards and scored 27 TDs last season. The defense will be anchored by senior DL Grant Kinsinger (6-1, 270) and junior LB Alec Rhodes (6-1, 210). Senior LB/OL Justin Iott (6-0, 210), senior WR/CB B.J. Lawson (5-10, 170), junior QB Nathan Craft (6-6, 210/1.275 passing yards, 10 TDs) and WR/DB Chase Conkle (6-2, 180) will contribute heavily.
*Liberty Center (7-3): The Tigers have holes to fill due to graduation but talent remains. Senior DE Adam Jones (5-10, 180) is back after being named first team All-NWOAL. Senior OL Josh Carpenter (6-3, 210), senior DL Vince Popsil (6-2, 270), junior TE/LB Logan Smith (6-4, 210), senior RB Jordan Smith (5-7, 190) and senior TE Adam Speith were all HM All-NWOAL.
*Marion Elgin (4-6): The Comets could surprise. Elgin returns junior RB Isaiah Mason (5-11, 205) who was named first team All-MOAC last year after rushing for 1,070 yards and 11 TDs. Also back are senior All-MOAC selections Bryston Williams (6-1, 160; 42 rec., 646 yards, seven TDs) and Noah Hayes (5-10, 160; four INTs) at WR and DB, respectively. Senior Dalton Brown (6-1, 240) anchors the DL.
*Marion Pleasant (7-3): The Spartans are coming off back-to-back 7-3 seasons and missed the playoffs for the fourth time in five years last season, but expectations have not changed for a program that owns 19 postseason berths and three state titles. Pleasant’s three losses last season, including one in double-OT (21-14 to River Valley), all came against teams that made the regional semifinals or better. Plenty of talent returns. Senior QB Ryan Mancicni (6-1, 190) threw for 1,808 yards, 23 TDs and just three INTs last season. One of his favorite targets is senior WR Kyle Galyk (5-8, 165) who is a two-time All-MOAC selection. Also back are five more senior All-MOAC players in DB Caleb Rector (6-0, 190/five INTs), OL/DL Tyler Axlin (6-4, 285), RB/LB Cade Lawrence (5-11, 195), OL/DL Bryce McDonald and DE Justin McCurdy.
*Milan Edison (6-4): The Chargers could surprise. Experience on the lines and depth and speed at the skill positions has supporters cautiously optimistic. Edison was 4-1 on the road last year.
*Pemberville Eastwood (8-3, Region 16 quarterfinalist): The Eagles return a talented cast that includes five first or second team All-Northern Buckeye Conference selections in seniors Grant Geiser (LB, two-time All-NBC), Devin Snowden (RB/DB, two-time All-NBC), Brennan Seifert (P, two-time selection), Lucas Fless (DL), and Tyler McCrory (OL).
*Swanton (2-8): The Bulldogs have won seven games in five years but return a solid nucleus and made be a year away from something special. A remarkably strong junior class leads the way. Included in that group are RB Jordan Nyler (5-7, 185), WR Robbie Gilsdorf (5-9, 160), WR/DB Tylor Prentice (5-10, 170) and QB Bryce MCComb (6-2, 160). All were All-NWOAL last season.
Keep An Eye On
*Archbold (6-4): The Blue Streaks missed the playoffs for just the third time in seven seasons last year and must replace five first or second team All-NWOAL performers. Senior WR/DB Levi Wyse (5-11, 170) returns after being named first team All-NWOAL.
*Bucyrus (5-5): The Redmen return a talented senior trio in QB Cole Murtiff (5-11, 173), RB/DL D.J. Dagher (6-0, 226) and LB Justin Campbell (6-0, 200).
*Collins Western Reserve (7-3): The Roughriders have been to the playoffs two of the last four years.
*Delta (5-5): The Panthers return a standout in junior RB Bailey Storeholder (5-11, 175) who ran for 741 yards and 12 TDs last season.
*Huron (9-3, Region 16 finalist): The Tigers must replace standout QB Cody Thompson who is now at Toledo. Senior DL Danzell Harris (6-1, 170) is a god one.
*Norwayne (7-3): The Bobcats are on quite a run under head coach Joe Harbour who is 48-13 in five years at the school. This season there will be some big names to replace. Seniors Chris Scruggs (6-1, 250) and Christian Steiner (6-1, 235) anchor the lines.
*Orrville (4-6): The Red Riders opened last year 4-0 before losing six straight. Included in that win streak though was the program’s 600th win. Orrville is at 601 and counting.
*Ottawa-Glandorf (6-4): According to veteran head coach Ken Schriner (133-69 in 19 years), “This team must find offensive consistency and balance to compete each week. Linemen need to develop on both sides of the ball. Skill positions should be the strength of the team.” Key returners for O-G include the senior quintet of OL/DL Ben Recker (6’3″, 220), OL/LB Jason Schnipke (6’2″, 210), LB Dan Godsil (6’2″, 195), WR Blake Blevins (6’2″, 190) and WR/LB Zach Kuhlman (6’2″, 180). Oak Harbor replaces Fostoria in Week 1.
*Paulding (2-8): After going 0-10 in 2012, the Panthers scored a pair of wins last year. Second-year head coach Kyle Coleman is looking to continue the build. “This is our staffs first full off season with the team, and we are looking to make major improvements across the board,” Coleman said. “Our work this year has been put toward trying to generate excitement around a program which has struggled in the recent past. We saw improvements last year on the field, but we were not consistent enough to be successful. This year we are looking to develop our entire football program, from Mini Panthers all the way to the Varsity program with key hires in the off season, and continued hard work from our players.” Paulding hasn’t had a winning record since 2008. A solid senior class will need to shine against a schedule that includes tough non-conference games with Patrick Henry and Wayne Trace.
*Waynedale (6-4): The Golden Bears made a huge turnaround last season after going 0-10 in 2012.
*Wellington (2-8): The Dukes have a good one in senior OL Bryce Gibbs (6-4, 285).
*West Salem Northwestern (9-2, Region 16 quarterfinalist): The Huskies are coming off back-to-back playoff seasons but were depleted by graduation. Only one starter returns on both sides of the ball. Couple that with the fact that the first three games are against 2013 playoff teams (Fairless, Black River and Columbia Station), and you’ll see why head coach Mike Thut said, “we must grow up quickly.” Key returners are senior LB/RB Josh Burns and sophomore TE/DE Derek Koch.
Also In This Region
Van Wert (1-9); Margaretta (3-7); Willard (1-9)