Cincinnati St. Xavier, led by Louisville recruit Darius Ashley, claimed its second D-I state title in three years last year.
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There was a time when northeast Ohio dominated the big-school division in high school football. Much of the dominance was connected to the strength of Cleveland St. Ignatius, which boasts a state-record nine state playoff titles.
In fact, the state champion came out of the current Region 1 for eight straight years between 1988-95 with seven titles for St. Ignatius and one for Warren Harding. But that region has had a bit of a dry spell with no titles since St. Ignatius won in 2001.
Southwest Ohio, representing Region 4, has dominated the title picture since then. Other than the 2006 title – won by Hilliard Davidson of suburban Columbus – Cincinnati schools have passed the championship around with two title wins for Cincinnati Elder and Cincinnati St. Xavier and one championship for Cincinnati Colerain.
Of course, the Cincinnati area – led by Cincinnati Moeller and Cincinnati Princeton – held court in this division throughout much of the 1970s and 1980s.
Many of the usual suspects will again contend for the championship in 2008. In Region 1, the top two candidates appear to be St. Ignatius and Cleveland Glenville. Glenville ousted St. Ignatius from the playoffs last year, but these two will go head to head in the 2008 season opener. Perhaps they will meet again in November with a state final four berth on the line.
Region 2 is wide open. The big question will be which of the Stark County powerhouses – Canton McKinley or Massillon Washington – will respond better to a new coach. Ron Johnson takes command at McKinley, while Jason Hall is the new head man at Massillon.
Dublin Coffman enjoyed a great run last year in Region 3. But many of the Shamrocks’ key players have moved on to the Division I college ranks. That could open the door for surging Hilliard Darby or Pickerington Central to make a state final four run.
If the opening week St. Ignatius-Glenville game is big, what does that say for the Region 4 final rematch between Colerain and St. Xavier that will also happen in Week 1? The winner of that game – pitting schools that have combined for three of the last four state titles -- would have to be considered a serious state championship contender.
The Blue Devils reached the state final four for the first time since a runner-up finish in 1995. But duplicating that success could be hard in 2008 as coach Rick Nowak, back for his 17th year at Brunswick, returns just two starters on offense and two on defense.
Brunswick lost prolific QB Sean Bedevelsky (3,300 yards) and WR Jordan Gribble (98 catches) to graduation. QB/DB Rick Manco was Brunswick’s leading tackler last year as a junior, but he will move to quarterback to try and replace Bedevelsky.
Scott Garcia returns for his second year as the coach at GlenOak, which welcomes back two starters on offense and eight on defense.
OL/DL Aaron Williams tallied seven sacks last year on defense.
“He also graded out as one of our best offensive linemen as a junior,” head coach Scott Garcia said. “He runs a 4.9 40-yard time and he benches 375 pounds. He’s just a big, strong kid.”
LB/FB Andrew Garman led the team in tackles (107) as a sophomore last year. WR/DB Zach Hatchett had five touchdowns among his 20 catches on offense. QB Brandon Martin got some limited time at quarterback last year but is favored to take over that role this year.
Centerville (9-3) Released 8/11
The Elks have been one of the most consistent programs in Ohio under Ron Ullery, who returns for his ninth year as the Centerville coach. Centerville won its playoff opener over Cincinnati Princeton 42-21 before falling to St. Xavier in the second round.
Replogle keys the defense. He had 86 tackles and seven sacks as a junior. He boasted offers from much of the Big Ten as well as from Cincinnati and West Virginia before committing to Indiana.
Cincinnati Colerain (12-1) Released 8/11
It was a stunning first year at the helm for Tom Bolden, who stepped in last year after Kerry Coombs left to become an assistant at the University of Cincinnati. The Cardinals won their first 12 games before dropping a regional final to nemesis St. Xavier. Those two teams will be rematched in the opening week of the 2008 season.
The graduation losses were many as Colerain said goodbye to three first-team All-Ohio players in RB Dominique Sherrer, DL Brandon Mills and DB Ravelle Sadler. QB Doug Reynolds also graduated.
It will be interesting to see if Colerain can maintain its three impressive winning streaks, including 29 straight regular season games (since 2005), 43 consecutive home games (since 1999) and 58 straight Greater Miami Conference games (since 1999).
Elder has taken a back seat to St. Xavier the last several years. But coach Doug Ramsey, starting his 12th year as the Panthers head coach, has some experience back with seven starters on offense and five more on defense returning.
“I think we’ve got a chance to have a pretty decent team,” said Ramsey, who led Elder to back-to-back state titles in 2002-03. “We would like to know as soon as possible who the quarterback is going to be. But we feel like we should have a lot of good skill players around him. We also think we should have one of the best offensive lines we have had.”
Nick Gramke is a building block at tailback. He rushed for 924 yards and 11 touchdowns as a junior. Josh Jones, a Cincinnati recruit, added 38 catches with six TDs.
John Rodenberg steps in as the new Moeller coach following the departure of Bob Crable. Rodenberg has 15 years of experience as a varsity head coach, including stays at Cincinnati McNicholas, Covington (Ky.) Catholic and last year at Cincinnati Roger Bacon.
Rodenberg will have five starters back on offense and four on defense. LB Nick Galvin was a star last year as a sophomore with 9-1/2 sacks and an interception. WR Tony Harris had 42 catches with nine TDs. QN Andrew Hendrick and QB Paul Whitehead will compete for the vacant quarterback spot.
It has been quite a three-year run at St. X for head coach Steve Specht. Since taking the Bombers’ head coaching job in 2005, his teams have combined to post a 40-2 record with two 15-0 state championship seasons. The Bombers have also won four straight GCL South titles.
But winning a third title in four years could be difficult. St. X has just two starters back on each side of the ball.
One key senior is DE Pat Muldoon, who had scholarship offers from Notre Dame and Ohio State. Another is RB Connor Earley, who sat behind standout Darius Ashley at tailback. Junior QB Luke Massa got some spot duty at quarterback last year and threw for 375 yards and five touchdowns against just one interception.
The Aviators have a nice nucleus of players returning. They could push Colerain in the GMC and may be a team to watch in the playoffs. Six starters are back on offense and three on defense.
“I am pretty confident in our offense,” said coach Scott Datillo, back for his third season as the Sycamore head coach. “We have all of our skill position players returning. We do have to replace some linemen.”
RB Bud Golden rushed for 1,129 yards and scored 14 touchdowns last year. He had offers from a number of schools, including Illinois, Purdue, Cincinnati and Indiana.
QB Casey MacClean returns after throwing for 1,631 yards and 17 TDs against 10 interceptions. DB/WR Steve Hull keyed the defense with seven interceptions.
The Thunderbolts have qualified for the playoffs in six of the last seven seasons. Another playoff berth could be in the offing as Northmont returns six starters on offense and seven more on defense.
“To continue this string of successful seasons, we will rely on a veteran, talented defense,” said coach Lance Schneider, who starts his 10th year at Northmont. “That will allow our inexperienced offensive line to gain the form they will need to compete in the GWOC Central Division.”
s C.J. Barnett is considered one of Ohio’s top 10 prospects. He has already committed to Ohio State.
The Tarblooders got into the playoffs as a seventh seed, but then advanced to the regional finals before a heartbreaking 41-40 loss to Mentor. Glenville should be back in the mix in 2008, despite losing the usual complement of Big Ten signees like WR Cordale Scott (Illinois) and DT Shawntel Rowell and FB/LB Jermil Martin (both to Ohio State).
DL Jonathan Newsome and OL Marcus Hall each have offers from a number of schools. Hall is considered one of Ohio’s top five prospects and Newsome is an Ohio State recruit.
This could be a team that helps St. Ignatius get back into the state title picture. Coach Chuck Kyle, back for his 26th year with the Wildcats, welcomes back nine players with starting experience on offense and four on defense.
LB Dan Fox, a Notre Dame verbal, had 76 tackles and three interceptions as a junior. QB Andrew Holland threw for 984 yards and 14 touchdowns against four interceptions, while Mark Myers subbed in for three games while he was hurt.
RB Mike Anter tallied 759 yards and five touchdowns last year. Ryan had 32 catches for 494 yards and seven touchdowns, while Parris had 28 catches for 435 yards and five scores.
The schedule, as always, will be tough with the rematch against Glenville (the Tarblooders won the playoff opener 26-23 last year) as well as games against defending state champion Cincinnati St. Xavier and runner-up Mentor.
Anthony Thornton, a Brookhaven graduate and the school’s offensive coordinator the last five years, has replaced Tom Blake as the Bearcats’ head coach.
Thornton welcomes back three starters on each side of the ball. But DE Derek Bryant, considered one of the state’s top junior prospects, is an intriguing transfer from nearby Gahanna Lincoln. Philip Johnson could be another one to watch at quarterback.
The 2007 season represented the most successful season in school history at Coffman. The Shamrocks reached the state semifinals for the second time ever, but the 13 wins were a school single-season record.
And it ended in heartbreaking fashion as Coffman ran out of time in the red zone against eventual state champion Cincinnati St. Xavier on the wrong end of a 10-7 score in their state semifinal match-up.
Mark Crabtree, beginning his eighth year as the Coffman coach and 14th as a varsity head coach, does bring back three starters on offense and five on defense, though.
RB Jared Phillips and RB Shaun Jones give Coffman a good 1-2 punch at running back. But the Shamrocks need a replacement for Stoudt at quarterback.
Tom Gibbons takes over as the Panthers’ new head coach after spending the last 12 years there as an assistant, including the last eight as the defensive coordinator.
RB Jeffvon Gill, a three-sport athlete, tallied 702 yards and 11 touchdowns as a junior. RB/LB John Franklin also averaged an impressive 10 yards a carry last year. OG/NG John Brnjic is a three-year starter. QB/DB Dontravious Smith tallied four interceptions on defense last year as a sophomore and will now get a chance to take over at quarterback.
“He is our leading candidate at quarterback,” Gibbons said. “He is a good athlete, but he did not get a lot of reps there last fall. He would project as a DB at the college level.”
John Snoad, who boasts 17 years of varsity head coaching experience in stops at Antwerp and Napoleon, takes over at Gahanna following the retirement of Mike Lanza. He inherits a Gahanna program that has reached the playoffs in five of the last six years. Roughly four starters will return on each side of the ball.
DB Ryan Ballenger had 26 tackles and an interception last year, while DE/LB Taylor Prusz notched 32 tackles and four sacks. TE/LB Nick Snoad is the coach’s son. He played on both sides of the ball last year as a junior at Napoleon.
Hilliard Darby (11-2) Released 8/4
The Panthers earned their first two playoff wins in school history before falling to Dublin Coffman 42-35 in the regional finals.
Head coach Paul Jenne recently resigned his post.
FS Harrison Reed tallied over 90 tackles a year ago. QB Brandon Barger figures to replace departed quarterback starter Jeremy Ebert.
Davidson won the 2006 Division I state championship, but ended up 10th in the region in 2007 and missed the playoffs. Brian White, returning for his ninth year at Davidson and 11th season as a varsity head coach, has five starters back on offense and six returning on defense.
“We know we will not be as good on the offensive line. We think we have some kids to step in. Two years ago with our state championship team, we had a great offensive line.”
White will count on Tyler Backstrom and Adam Frazier to get it done on both sides of the ball.
“Hopefully, those two guys will play well and give us a good starting point,” White said.
The Explorers must replace a number of key play makers from last year, including QB/SS Alex Gedeon and several of his top receivers. Richie Piekarski and Jake Brandy will compete for the quarterback role.
OL/DL Griffin Vehar, OL/DL Brian Winters and RB/LB Matt Dorenkott (48 tackles) are all two-way players.
“Once again, Hudson’s defense will be the strength on this year’s team,” said coach Tom Narducci, returning for his 14th season at Hudson. “We will be counting on a number of underclassmen to step up and help continue that tradition.”
When the final playoff computer points were tabulated, the Warriors were on the outside looking in at ninth in Region 4 despite their eight-win regular season. But Wayne could be back in the playoff mix in 2008, especially with five starters back on both sides of the ball.
QB Braxton Miller is considered one of Ohio’s top prospects in the 2011 class. He took the reins as a freshman and threw for over 1,000 yards and rushed for 500 more. He boasts 4.47-second speed in the 40.
“You have to like it when you have a trigger man like that back,” head coach Jay Minton said.
The Cardinals have had back-to-back state runner-up finishes. Getting back to the title game could be tough as Mentor returns two starters on offense and seven on defense.
“It is always our goal to try and compete for a state championship,” said Mentor coach Steve Trivisonno, back for his 12th year as the Cardinals coach. “We talk about that as one of our main goals. To win that title, it is a lofty goal. But we always want to shoot for that.”
Mentor must replace Mr. Football-award winning QB Bart Tanski. Fracci and Sam Mayse will compete for that job.
TE/DE Ben Pike has several major college offers, while DB/WR Nick Krantz is a leader on defense at corner.
The Bears took a major step in 2007, reaching the playoffs for the first time and accumulating the most wins at the school in a single season since at least the 1940s. QB Ryan Lehotsky was 7-0 as the starting quarterback last year, while SS/WR Sean Holdmeyer tallied five interceptions. TE/DE Dan France, a second-team All-Ohio pick last year, has some major colleges interested.
“We plan on winning another (Northeast Ohio Conference) title and on going back to the playoffs,” said coach Nick Ciulli. “Our expectations are way higher than in past seasons. We feel we can play with anybody on our schedule. We have to take the next step and win a playoff game. We know we cannot hide from anyone anymore.”
The Tigers were the state runner-up in Division II in 2006 before moving to D-I last year. Central downed rival Lancaster 21-7 in its playoff opener before falling to Dublin Coffman 35-9 in a second-round match-up.
Jay Sharrett, back for his sixth year as the Central head coach, has just three starters back on offense and four on defense. But most of them are well known players. DB PatWhite has verbaled to Michigan State, while FB/LB Zach Boren and WR/DB Jamie Wood are ticketed for Ohio State.
Nick Raymond and John Montgomery split time at quarterback last year and could do so again in 2008.
The Comets reached the second round of the 2007 playoffs before falling to eventual state runner-up Mentor 23-13. It was Solon’s ninth straight playoff berth. Coach Jim McQuaide returns five starters on offense and six on defense.
OL/DL Justin Woo has been a two-year starter on the offensive line. LB/RB Joe Janasek tallied 111 tackles, including 20 tackles-for-loss as a junior. WR/DB Matt Piscitello had 50 tackles last year. TE/DE Darryl Baldwin started in 2007 as a sophomore (34 tackles, eight tackles-for-loss) and already has several major colleges interested.
Solon’s slate includes road games at Canton McKinley, Mentor, Brunswick and Strongsville.
The Titans welcome back four starters on offense and five on defense.
“We have a very big senior class,” said Doug Pearson, starting his seventh year as the St. John’s head coach. “We’ve got about 37 seniors. It is a good sized group – including one giant.”
That giant is OL Jack Mewhort, a center who has already verbaled to Ohio State.
“He is the most powerful player I think I have ever seen up front at the high school level,” Pearson said. “If he locks on, you’re going for a ride.”
TB/DB Hunter Lent was a standout on defense and will have a chance to win the tailback job as a senior. Anderson was a part-time starter last year at quarterback, throwing for 800 yards and rushing for 500.
The Spartans reached the second round of the playoffs last year before falling to Glenville 21-3. Coach D.J. Ogilvie, back for his fifth year at Boardman, has five starters back on offense and two on defense.
Rob Boyd steps in at quarterback. OL/DL Corey Linsley has already accepted an offer to play college football at Ohio State.
“Corey’s strength is unbelievable,” Ogilvie said. “He is by far the strongest high school kid I have coached or seen. He is so physical and he has great feet.”
The Little Giants missed the playoffs, but could contend in 2008 behind QB Cody Foos (6-0, 180, Jr.) and WR Terence Davis (6-4, 210, Sr.). Foos threw for 1,801 yards and 15 TDs, while Davis had five scores among his 24 catches.
“We have been motivated by missing the playoffs last season,” said Fremont Ross coach Derek Kidwell, a former Ohio Mr. Football award winner. “We have a good and big junior class that we will be expecting a lot from.”
Garfield Heights (2-8)
The Bulldogs will rally behind DE Melvin Fellows (6-4, 255, Sr.), an Ohio State verbal and the state’s No. 1 prospect.
Groveport Madison (8-4)
Groveport notched its first-ever playoff win with a 41-27 win over Brookhaven last year.
Lakewood St. Edward (4-5)
It was a rough first year for coach Scott Niedzwiecki with the Eagles. But he has seven returning starters on both sides of the ball. Key names include RB Dominique Goodwin (5-10, 205, Sr.), QB Alex Lavinsky (6-1, 200, Jr.), WR Jeff Burke (6-1, 190, Sr.) and LB Brian Boland (6-0, 205, Sr.).
The Golden Gales are led by second-team All-Ohio LB Ryan Cheek (6-1, 225, Sr.) and DB Nathan Carpenter (5-10, 181, Jr.).
Massillon Washington (6-4)
Jason Hall, who coached at Macedonia Nordonia last year, is in his first year with the Tigers. DBJustin Turner (6-3, 190, Sr.) leads the way. Turner, a Michigan verbal, had 40 tackles and seven tackles-for-loss last year.
The Beavers have just three starters back on offense and one on defense. But QB Kyle Shafer (5-10, 175, Sr.) is one of the returnees. He threw for 800 yards and rushed for 300 in limited action last year.
The Yellow Jackets are led by a pair of talented seniors in LB Brandon Butler (6-0, 200) and RB Taylor Dimmerling (6-1, 190).
Shaker Heights (1-9)
The Raiders will look to rebound behind first-team All-Ohio WR Perez Ashford (5-11, 175, Sr.).
Springfield (New School)
Springfield North (3-7 last year) and South (1-9) have been consolidated. Former North coach and Kettering Fairmont athletic director Rick Robertson will be the coach at the new Springfield school. Key players include OL Jeremy Johnson (6-4, 310, Sr.) and DL Desmond McCown (6-3, 230, Jr.).
The Spartans must replace record-setting QB Brad Leestma. TB Troy Bell (5-8, 170, Sr.) could break the school career rushing record.
“I feel comfortable about our returning defensive personnel,” said coach Pat Gucciardo. “We must be extremely consistent on offense and find a quarterback to replace Brad.”
Toledo Whitmer (9-3)
The Panthers advanced to the regional semifinals before a 37-23 loss to Brunswick.
Upper Arlington (8-3)
The Golden Bears could challenge in the realigned OCC. UA dropped its playoff opener to Hilliard Darby 35-10 last year.
The Grizzlies dropped a 51-37 shootout to Toledo Whitmer in a playoff opener last year.
Warren G. Harding (4-6)
The Raiders have a nice nucleus in QB/WR Aunre David (6-0, 180, Sr.) and three of the state’s top junior prospects in DE/LB O’Neal Brown (6-6, 210), WR/CB D.J. Williamson (6-1, 180) and QB/SS Mike Dorsey (6-2, 195).
West Chester Lakota West (5-5)
The Firebirds are keyed by DL John Odom (6-0, 255, Sr.) and LB Jordan Hicks (6-2, 200, Jr.), one of the state’s top junior prospects.
West Chester Lakota West vs. Huber Heights Wayne, 8:15 p.m., Aug. 21 (at Dayton Welcome Stadium); Toledo St. John's at Findlay; Pickerington Central at Upper Arlington; Cincinnati St. Xavier vs. Cincinnati Colerain, 8:15 p.m. (at Cincinnati Nippert Stadium); Cleveland Glenville vs. Cleveland St. Ignatius, noon, Aug. 23 (at Parma's Byers Field); Cincinnati Moeller vs. Cincinnati Princeton, 8:15 p.m., Aug. 23 (at Cincinnati Nippert Stadium).
Week 2 (all games Aug. 29 unless noted)
Mentor at Strongsville, Aug. 28; Cincinnati Princeton at Centerville; Cleveland St. Ignatius at Clayton Northmont; Columbus Brookhaven at Hilliard Davidson; Cincinnati Colerain vs. McKeesport, Pa., 5 p.m., Aug. 30 (Herbstreit Challenge at Cincinnati Paul Brown Stadium); Cincinnati St. Xavier vs. Prattville, Ala., 8 p.m., Aug. 30 (Herbstreit Challenge at Cincinnati Paul Brown Stadium); Cincinnati Moeller-Nashville (Tenn.) Montgomery Bell, noon, Aug. 31 (Herbstreit Challenge at Cincinnati Paul Brown Stadium).
Week 3 (all games Sept. 5 unless noted)
Indianapolis Cathedral at Cincinnati St. Xavier; Toledo St. John's at Strongsville; Westerville South at Clayton Northmont; Cleveland Glenville visits Gahanna Lincoln, Sept. 6 (Spielman Gridiron Classic); Centerville at Cincinnati Moeller, Sept. 6 (at UC's Nippert Stadium).
Week 4 (all games Sept. 12 unless noted)
Cleveland Glenville at Cleveland South; Cincinnati LaSalle at Cincinnati Elder; Trotwood-Madison at Huber Heights Wayne; Lancaster at Pickerington Central; Macedonia Nordonia at Brunswick; Mentor at Cleveland St. Ignatius.
Week 5 (all games Sept. 19 unless noted)
In a match-up of state champions, Cincinnati St. Xavier visits Louisville (Ky.) Trinity. Also, Cincinnati Sycamore at Cincinnati Colerain; Springfield at Trotwood-Madison; Uniontown Lake at North Canton Hoover; Lakewood St. Edward at Cincinnati Elder, 7 p.m., Sept. 20; Cincinnati Moeller at Mentor, 2 p.m., Sept. 20.
Week 6 (all games Sept. 26 unless noted)
Cincinnati St. Xavier at Cincinnati Elder; Youngstown Boardman at North Canton Hoover; West Chester Lakota West at Cincinnati Princeton; Canton McKinley at Canton GlenOak; Cincinnati Moeller at Cincinnati LaSalle; Upper Arlington at Hilliard Darby; Huber Heights Wayne at Clayton Northmont; Cleveland St. Ignatius at Massillon Washington.
Week 7 (all games Oct. 3 unless noted)
Cincinnati Elder vs. Cincinnati Moeller (at UC's Nippert Stadium); Groveport Madison at PIckerington Central; Dublin Coffman at Hilliard Darby.
Week 8 (all games Oct. 10 unless noted)
Cincinnati Sycamore at Cincinnati Princeton; Youngstown Boardman at Canton GlenOak; Hilliard Davidson at Dublin Coffman; Cincinnati St. Xavier at Lakewood St. Edward, 2 p.m., Oct. 11; Massillon Washington at Warren Harding, Oct. 11; Cincinnati LaSalle at Cleveland St. Ignatius, Oct. 11.
Week 9 (all games Oct. 17 unless noted)
Canton McKinley at Youngstown Boardman; Cincinnati Colerain at West Chester Lakota West; Massillon Washington at Mentor; Canton GlenOak at North Canton Hoover; Hilliard Davidson at Upper Arlington; Huber Heights Wayne at Centerville; Cleveland St. Ignatius at Cincinnati St. Xavier, Oct. 18; Lakewood St. Edward at Cincinnati Moeller, 2 p.m., Oct. 18 (at UC's Nippert Stadium).
Week 10 (all games Oct. 24 unless noted)
Cincinnati Moeller at Cincinnati St. Xavier; Liberty Twp. Lakota East at West Chester Lakota West; Upper Arlington at Dublin Coffman; Macedonia Nordonia at Garfield Heights; Springfield at Huber Heights Wayne; Hilliard Darby at Hilliard Davidson; Canton McKinley at Massillon Washington, 2 p.m., Oct. 25; Lakewood St. Edward vs. Cleveland St. Ignatius, 7 p.m., Oct. 25.
OHIO HIGH PREDICTIONS
Region 1 Glenville over Cleveland St. Ignatius
Region 2 Macedonia Nordonia over Toledo St. John’s
Region 3 Pickerington Central over Hilliard Davidson
Region 4 Cincinnati St. Xavier over Cincinnati Elder