Team To Beat
*Lewis Center Olentangy (8-2): The Braves have high expectations. “We are excited about the upcoming season,” head coach Mark Solis (109-52 career record) said. “We return eight starters on offense and nine starters on defense. We also return our punter and placekicker, so we feel good about the upcoming season. We have had a very good offseason and are working hard to develop good depth on both sides of the ball.” The defense will feature several skilled players including junior DL Chris Crumb (6-1, 255; 95 tackles, 10 TFL), senior LB Jake Didion (5-11, 195; 120 tackles, 23 TFL), senior DE Nate Hall (6-2, 205; 70 tackles, eight TFL) and senior DB Nate Tarpey (5-8, 175; 78 tackles). Junior QB Deeb Haber (6-2, 185) returns after throwing for 1,211 yards and seven TDs in seven games. He’ll have a solid receiving corps in junior WR Obi Anunike (6-4, 195), senior TE Austin Kochheiser (6-5, 235) and senior WR Drew Batt (5-11, 180). The running game will be handled by senior RB Anthony Golden (5-11, 205; 85 carries, 421 yards, seven TDs). Junior K Jacob Bell (6-0, 180/5-of-7 FGs) is a weapon. “We have very challenging preseason scrimmages with Canton McKinley, Clayton Northmont and Columbus Eastmoor that will prepare us well for the 2014 season,” Solis said. “I took over for Ed Terwilliger in mid-June, 2013 and we are excited that we have had a full off-season with our kids.” The goal is to win the program’s first OCC divisional title.
Teams To Watch
*Columbus Northland (7-3, Region 5 quarterfinalist): The Vikings earned the program’s second playoff berth ever last year and have high expectations again. Head coach Kevin Tooson (53-55 in 11 years) returns a pair of highly talented seniors in RB/DB Nateshawn Hargrove (5-10, 200/731 yards, 14 TDs) and OL/DL Michael Kyle (6-4, 272). Other key contributors will be senior WR/DB Sherman Watson (5-10, 172; 27 rec.), senior ATH/DB Abu Turay (5-8, 165; four INTs) and senior QB/LB Nick Fisher (5-11, 205; 1,190 yards passing, 300 yards rushing).
*Dublin Scioto (6-5, Region 5 quarterfinalist): The Irish appear ready for an extended run. Senior LB and Ohio State commit Nick Conner (6-4, 225/116 tackles, 18 TFL, three INTs, five FR, three defensive TDs) leads a defense that also features senior DL Brennen Sawicki (6-2, 275/two-time All-OCC/44 tackles). The offense will be led by senior QB Nathan Densel (6-1, 205/Findlay offer) who completed 172-of-272 passes for 1,838 yards and 16 TDs last season. Senior K Sam Crosa (5-7, 130/4-5 FGs) and Connor (14 TDs) are offensive weapons as well.
*Hamilton Township (7-3): The Rangers are coming off back-to-back 7-3 seasons and have their sights set on reaching the postseason. Senior RB Aaron Williams is a two-time first team All-MSL selection who has 29 TDs in two years. Senior WR Deric Phouthavong (6-3, 195) caught 19 passes for 510 yards and six TDs last season and owns an offer from Toledo. The defense will be headed by the senior quartet of DB Xavier Harris (5-6, 138; 42 tackles), DB Brandon Marable (5-11, 188; 17 tackles), LB Houston Palmer (5-11, 184; 55 tackles) and LB Dillon Hawthrone (5-10, 212; 61 tackles). The Rangers 27 wins the last four seasons is the most over a four-year span since 1977. Last year’s MSL title was the program’s first since 2002. “A standard for our program has been set, the culture has changed,” head coach Nathan Hillerich (27-13 in four years) said. “Winning is expected and our kids have embraced the ‘process’ to become champions.” Key non-league playoff point games loom with Licking Heights and Worthington Kilbourne in weeks 2 and 3. Last year, HT lost both games and finished ninth in the region by less than half a point.
*Hilliard Bradley (6-4): The Jaguars return a solid senior nucleus in RB/DB Trey Anderson (6-3, 210/750 all-purpose yards, six TDs), RB/DB Jordan Haywood (5-8, 185/1,005 yards, 12 TDs) and OL Jacob Zeigler (6-1, 265).
*Mansfield Senior (11-1, Region 5 semifinalist): Tygers have a special RB in junior Tyquan Vickers (5-11, 180) who ran for 1,435 yards and 12 TDs on 175 carries last season. Also back to block for him is senior OL Marshall Levins (6-5, 265).
*Mt. Vernon (6-4): The Yellow Jackets return one of Central Ohio’s top backfields. Senior RB J.D. Orr (6-0, 200) rushed for 1,838 yards and 21 TDs last year after running for 1,244 yards and 12, respectively, as a sophomore. Junior QB Ryan Fitzgerald (5-11, 185) is back after throwing for 1,034 yards and eight TDs and rushing for 714 yards and 13 TDs last season.
*New Albany (11-2, Region 5 finalist): Senior LB Jack Schroer (6-5, 242/49 tackles, five sacks) has committed to Miami. Junior K Joey Rolwing (6-2, 170) scored 58 points last year and connected on 7-of-14 FGs (four misses were 45-plus, longest 49).
*Walnut Ridge (7-3): Scotts will feature junior QB Malik Harrison (6-4, 185) who threw for 1,000 yards and rushed for 590 last years. Other key returners are senior OL Dezjuan Starks (5-10, 290) and senior DL Josh Jordan (6-2, 299/49 tackles, nine TFL).
*Wooster (4-6): The Generals could surprise. Senior QB Cameron Daugherty (6-5, 200) returns after throwing for 2,241 yards and 23 TDs last season. Also back is senior DB/WR Marquise Blair (6-4, 185/75 tackles) who holds offers from Syracuse, Purdue, Toledo, Miami of Ohio, Cincinnati, Akron and Marshall. Other key returners are senior DL Tyson Jackson (6-3, 280) and junior RB Martavius Dyson (5-10, 170). Dyson ran for 247 yards and five TDs in a win over West Holmes last season.
*Zanesville (13-1, Region 5 champion, state semifinalist): The Blue Devils had a historic run last year and graduation took its toll. Zanesville must replace its top two rushers, leading passer and top five receivers and tacklers. Junior DB/QB Ben Kaufman returns after making 34 tackles and recording six INTs. Another key returner is senior RB/LB Jeremiah Jones (38 tackles).
Keep An Eye On
*Ashland (7-3): Senior Drew Dickinson (6-3, 260) anchors the Arrows OL.
*Ashville Teays Valley (3-7): The Vikings have a good one in junior OL/DL prospect Neal Davis (6-1, 265). Davis had 62 tackles (10.5 FL) and 30 pancake blocks as a sophomore.
*Canal Winchester (0-10): After going 9-3 and winning a playoff game in 2012, the Indians went winless. Senior WR Skyler Scott (6-2, 215) had 19 catches for 376 yards and five TDs in five games last year. He scored six TDs as a sophomore. Scott also made 44 tackles last season.
*Columbus Whetstone (6-4): The Braves will ride senior RB Melek White (5-10, 180) who ran for 776 yards and scored 14 TDs last year. Other key senior returners are OL Jeremy Polk (6-6, 320) and LB Justus Barnett (6-2, 200/86 tackles, seven TFL).
*Franklin Heights (1-9): The Falcons will feature junior WR Seth Dawkins (6-2, 185/33 rec., 398 yards, five TDs).
*Logan (6-4): Chieftains defense will be led by junior LB Bryce McBride (5-9, 175).
*Pataskala Licking Heights (9-2, Region 5 quarterfinalist): The Hornets will feature senior RB Robbie Moore (5-9, 175) who ran for 848 yards and 13 TDs last year.
*St. Charles Prep (7-3, Region 5 quarterfinalist): Cardinals earned program’s fifth playoff berth ever last year. Expect senior RB NiQuille Bell (5-7, 168/559 yards rushing) to log ample touches. Junior K Will Groeber (5-9, 170) booted five FGs last year and scored 50 points.
*Thomas Worthington (4-6): Cardinals will feature senior LB Kyle Hillyard (5-10, 205) who had 121 tackles last season.
*Watkins Memorial (5-5): The Warriors made improvement last season after going 2-8 in 2012. This year they’ll look for the program’s first winning season since 2008. Head coach Jeff Severino (25-37 in seven years) will lean on seniors Mike Ford (QB, 5’10, 180), Taven Jenkins (DB, 6’0, 160), Nathan Miller (DL, 6’0, 240), Drew Burgess (OL, 5’11 , 210) and Cameron Smith (DB/WR, 5’11, 175). Said Severino: “We will have a young team this year, we have a good core of Seniors, about 14, but our strength will be in our junior class and how they come along the first few games. We have some sophomores that may have to get some playing time.”
*Worthington Kilbourne (10-2, Region 5 semifinalist): The Wolves pulled off a huge turnaround last season after finishing 3-7 in 2012. According to head coach Vince Trombetti (44-39 in eight years) a lot of experience graduated and the entire offensive coaching staff departed. Coming back to the program are former assistants Mike Cottrill and Brian Moore as offensive coordinator and OL coach, respectively. Senior QB Griffin Dahn (6-5, 211) is a good building block. Senior longsnapper Liam McCullough (6-3, 230) has committed to Ohio State. Other contributors include senior OL/DL JC Bartok (6-5, 245/Bowling Green commit) and senior DB Dom Brown (5-10, 180).
Also In This Region
Columbus Briggs (1-9), Columbus West (4-6), Olentangy Orange (1-9), Marion-Harding (3-7), Dublin Jerome (4-6)