Players To Watch
* Michael Warren, Senior RB, Toledo Central Catholic
Has rushed for 5,022 yards and 59 touchdowns the last two years.
* Grant Denbow, Senior QB, Ashland
Thrown for 4,606 yards and 42 touchdowns in two years.
* James Hudson, Senior DE, Toledo Central Catholic
Has 21 offers, including Alabama, Michigan, Michigan State, Penn State, Miami (Fla.) and Nebraska.
* Keysean Amison, Senior LB, Perkins
Had 124 tackles and 16 tackles-for-loss last year.
* Tyrell Ajian, Senior DB, Madison Comprehensive
Kentucky commit choose wildcats over Notre Dame, Michigan and Michigan State.
Team To Beat
* Central Catholic (Toledo) – 12-3, State Runner-Up, Region 8 champion
The Fighting Irish are 51-7 the last four years and own two state titles during that span. They’ll contend for a third. Senior running back Michael Warren (5-11, 200) is one of the state’s top prospects and owns eight scholarship offers, including Iowa, Kentucky, Rutgers and Iowa State. Warren has rushed for over 2,000 yards each of the last two seasons (5,022 yards total) and has scored 59 touchdowns. The defense will feature a top prospect as well in senior defensive end James Hudson (6-5, 280) who holds 21 offers, including Alabama, Michigan, Michigan State, Penn State, Miami (Fla.) and Nebraska.
Teams To Watch
* Ashland – 9-2, Region 8 quarterfinalist
The Arrows offense is led by senior QB and two-time first team All-OCC selection Grant Denbow (6-4, 210). Denbow threw for 1,854 yards and 17 touchdowns and ran for 597 yards and eight touchdowns last year. He threw for 2,752 yards and 25 touchdowns as a sophomore. Senior receiver John Wolfe (5-11, 170) returns after recording team-highs in receptions (51), receiving yards (677) and receiving touchdowns (five). The defense will be led by senior defensive lineman Deven Bowen (5-11, 200), the team’s top returning tackler (with 81 stops and 17 tackles-for-loss).
* Benedictine (Cleveland) – 12-1, Region 8 finalist
The Bengals fell short of defending their state title by falling to Toledo Central Catholic 31-30 in double OT in the regional final. It was the program’s 20th playoff berth. Benedictine must replace 12 All-Northeast Lakes District players. They return senior defensive lineman Brandon Quarterman (6-0, 200).
* Clyde – 10-2, Region 8 semifinalist
The Fliers are postseason veterans, having made the playoffs nine of the last 12 years. Clyde has reached the regional finals two of the last three seasons. Key returners include senior receiver Zach Reiman (6-2, 175) and junior defensive back Conner Long (6-1, 175).
* Lexington – 6-4
The Minutemen have a chance to have a solid season. Senior running back Hunter Biddle (6-0, 170) and senior receiver AJ Nickoli (6-0, 175) return as do sophomore defensive back Cade Stover (6-4, 200) and senior defensive back Tony Gerrell (6-0, 170). All four were All-Northwest District.
* Madison Comprehensive (Mansfield) – 5-5
The Rams return one of the state’s top prospects in senior receiver Tyrell Ajian (6-1, 185) who is committed to Kentucky. He picked the Wildcats over Notre Dame, Michigan, Tennessee and Michigan State.
* Perkins (Sandusky) – 8-3, Region 8 quarterfinalist
After going 5-15 in head coach Jason Ziegler’s first two seasons, the Pirates are 36-10 since and have been to the playoffs four straight years. Expect senior running back Mayson Harkelroad (6-1, 190 with four touchdowns) to carry a lot of the offensive load. The defense returns four players that logged over 48 tackles, led by senior linebacker Keysean Amison (5-10, 185) who had team-highs in tackles (124) and tackles-for-loss (16) last year.
* University School (Hunting Valley) – 7-3
The Preppers are looking for their first playoff berth since 2011 and should be in contention. A solid senior nucleus returns in quarterback Jayden Cunningham (6-0, 190), receiver Brad Rehak (5-11, 180) and defensive back Max Feldman (5-11, 190).
Keep An Eye On
* Bowling Green – 8-3, Region 8 quarterfinalist
The Bobcats have posted back-to-back playoff seasons after going 3-7 in 2013. Senior offensive lineman Conner Ashman (6-1, 26) is a good one.
* Chagrin Falls – 4-6
After going 60-9 from 2009-13 and reaching the regional finals four times (in D-IV) over that span, the Tigers have missed the playoffs two years in a row. Head coach Mark Iammarino (entering his 22nd season) is 161-78 at CF with 10 payoff berths and nine CVC titles. Expect the Tigers to contend again for another of each. Six starters return on each side of the ball and eight of the top 10 linemen return, including two-way senior standout Jack Dawson. In addition, seniors Charlie Clegg (6-6, 300), Jake Levine (6-1, 200), Riley Hardacre (5-10, 275) will bring a lot of size and experience to the front. Juniors John Gardner (6-1, 215), Nick Streicher, Cam Lucas and Nick DiFiore (6-3, 225) add depth. Running backs and linebackers are other position groups that return leaders. Senior Jack O’Brien (6-0, 205) and juniors Cole Newbauer (5-11, 190), Patrick Holland and Sam Gaizutis will share carries. Sophomore John Gardner will provide speed. Veteran receivers Andrew Kwasny (6-4, 175) and Pierce Fricke (6-1, 195) aid the passing game. The quarterback position could be handled by a committee led by seniors Tommy Mallak (6-5, 200) and Tommy Richmond (6-0, 190 and an all-conference defensive back) and junior Christoph Sontich (6-4, 220). Sontich, O’Brien, Newbauer, Gaizutis double as linebackers. Other players to look for are senior receiver Alex Moore, senior defensive end Andrew Clement, junior defensive back Mac Magyaros and junior defensive back Cade Salyers.
* Elida – 6-4
The Bulldogs will build around the talented junior tandem of running back Cole Harmon (5-9, 170) and defensive lineman Dan Tullis (5-10, 245). Key returning seniors are tight end Noah Mosley, defensive back Scott Mcdonnell and offensive lineman Noah Meeker.
* Rocky River – 8-3, Region 8 quarterfinalist
The Pirates are coming off back-to-back playoff berths. The offense will be powered by a pair of junior running backs – Dameon Crawford (5-4, 150 with 663 yards rushing and six touchdowns) and Matt Popovich (5-8, 180 with 662 yards rushing and seven touchdowns). The defense returns four players who logged over 33 tackles, including linebacker Jack Rodgers who had 81 tackles and 11 tackles-for-loss.
* Sandusky – 6-4
The Blue Streaks return a good one in junior defensive lineman Jamez Young (5-10, 245) who doubles as a state wrestling placer.
Also In This Region
John Hay (Cleveland) 9-2, Region 8 quarterfinalist
East Tech (Cleveland) 5-5
Shaw (East Cleveland) 3-7
Woodward (Toledo) 4-6
Columbian (Tiffin) 4-6
Collinwood (Cleveland) 1-9
Padua Franciscan (Parma) 1-9
Scott (Toledo) 1-9
Rogers (Toledo) 1-9
Shawnee (Lima) 0-10