Sunbvury Big Walnut outlasted Newark Licking Vallley for the 2007 D-III state title.
With the departure of powers Steubenville and Kettering Alter to Division IV last season, Sunbury Big Walnut claimed its first state championship in a wide open Division III field with a 17-10 win over Newark Licking Valley in the title game.
It appears early on Division III could be up for grabs again this season with a fairly level playing field from top to bottom.
Aurora will be aiming for its fourth straight playoff appearance and fifth since 2000 this season.
The Greenmen return 14 starters from last year’s playoff team, including the team’s leading receiver in Dee Brizzolara and quarterback Brendan Gallagher, who had 1,600 yards passing and 600 yards rushing last year. Steve Yung tallied 800 yards rushing and 300 yards receiving in 2007.
“We are cautiously optimistic,” said head coach Bob Mihalik, who has led Aurora to a 49-28 record in seven seasons. “We will try to win our fourth straight Chagrin Valley Conference title and fourth straight playoff berth.”
Bellamy is a big line prospect with scholarship offers from a number of major schools, including Ohio State and Michigan.
The Eagles return 13 total starters, including Ryan O’Rourke and RB Marquis Harrell. O’Rourke passed for 1,900 yards and 13 touchdowns last year, while Harrell rushed for over 1,000 yards and 16 touchdowns.
“The majority of the experience will come from the skilled positions,” said head coach Mike Elder.
Zak Wearsch had 50 tackles and a sack as a sophomore.
“We set our sights high for both a (West Shore Conference) championship crown and an invite to the 2008 OHSAA Football playoffs,” Elder said.
After making the Division II playoffs in 2006, Chillicothe had a down season last year dropping to Division III. But with eight starters returning on both sides of the ball and 24 seniors coming back the Cavaliers are confident in a return to the postseason.
“I am very impressed with the leadership and work ethic of our seniors,” head coach Bill Davidson said. “With a number of players returning on both sides of the ball, expectations are very high despite out challenging schedule.”
Chillicothe plays at Columbus Brookhaven, at Big Walnut and hosts Ironton among other challenging games this year.
Caleb Knights passed for 1,400 yards in 2007 and tallied 500 yards rushing. Jordan Benson reeled in 25 catches and had 84 tackles and five interceptions on defense.
Lakeview made the playoffs last year for the first time since 2000 and was the surprise of Region 9 with a signature win over Walsh Jesuit in the regional semifinals.
Ben Moody, a three-year starter, rushed for 1,368 yards on 242 carries and 11 touchdowns last season earning All-Ohio Honorable Mention recognition. The Clark twins, Justin and Jared, are each three-year starters and OL/DL Nathan Bradley and OL/DL Nick Kohuth anchor the line upfront on both sides.
With the combination of the Trumbull Athletic Conference and Metro Athletic Conference into the All-American Conference, Lakeview has five new teams on its schedule, including three in-conference games (Poland, Hubbard and Salem).
“That is a tremendous learning curve as coaches you’ve got to have during the summer to learn as much as we can about those teams,” head coach Tom Pavlansky said.
A regional finalist from a season ago, Northwest returns 12 starters and 22 lettermen from last year’s team.
OL Nate Klatt was a first team All-Ohio selection and has offers from the MAC and the Big Ten. Danny Beers rushed for 1,014 yards and 17 touchdowns with RB Frankie Steen and TB/DB Evan Bach combining for close to 700 yards and 10 touchdowns. LB Bobby Schilling tallied 80 tackles on defense and Bach had 68 tackles with an interception.
“Graduation has hit us hard, however, we have many good athletes that are prepared to step into the shoes of last year’s seniors,” head coach Vic Whiting said. “If we reload quickly, especially at quarterback and receiver, we have a chance to make a run at our team’s goals – the (Northern Buckeye Conference) title and the playoffs.”
In his second season at the helm of his alma mater, Canton South head coach Moe Daniska led the Wildcats to their first ever back-to-back playoff appearances last year. With 13 returning starters and 18 lettermen returning, Canton South is looking to make it three straight postseason appearances.
Matt Trissel is a three-year starter and threw for 3,000 yards last season and has an experienced line returning to protect him. Three-year starter and All-Ohio LB Mike McKinney anchors a solid unit returning on defense.
“In order for our Wildcats to be successful this year, we are going to have to rely on our experienced offensive line to protect Trissel,” Daniska said. “We are very excited about this upcoming season. We are hoping to gain momentum with our program.”
Cincinnati Indian Hill (10-3)
Indian Hill has been the top seed in the Region 12 playoffs each of the last four seasons but has failed to advance past the regional tournament.
The Braves hope to buck the trend this season with one of the most prolific passers in the state under center for the third straight year in Bo Cordell.
Cordell has thrown for over 5,300 career yards, 55 touchdowns, 15 interceptions and a 66 completion percentage. He was a Division III first team All-Ohio selection in 2007. Leonard Riston rushed for 612 yards and 14 touchdowns last year with 401 yards receiving and five touchdowns. Sam Hendricks rushed for 271 yards and four touchdowns. Roland Sommer was a second team All-Ohio selection upfront for the Braves.
Clyde is 30-7 in three seasons under head coach Marc Gibson, including last year’s regional finals finish.
Back this season is three-year starter Alex Gillett under center. Gillett was named Division III Offensive Player of the Year last season throwing for over 2,700 yards and 38 touchdowns. OT/DE Jared Branski was a first team All-Ohio selection and OG/LB Drew Beebe was an All-Sandusky Bay Conference selection.
“The return of several offensive linemen and their size should allow us to be strong in the running game,” Gibson said, “and the return of (Gillett) will enable us to be diversified.”
Walsh Jesuit reached the regional semifinals last season against a brutal schedule before being upset by Region 9 surprise Cortland Lakeview. The Warriors lose some key players from last year’s team but return a good core of players to build on last year’s success.
“We have a lot of work to do but we have some promising scenarios,” said head coach Gerry Rardin, who enters his 28th season at Walsh Jesuit.
Experience on the offensive and defensive lines as well as at the skill positions will be Walsh Jesuit’s strength early on. Size up front on offense will be critical for opening holes for RB Armand Dehaney, who has offer to Ball State and Air Force.
OL Pat McShane and Smith are also garnering major college attention.
C-J is 11-9 in two seasons under head coach Andy Helms and the Eagles are looking to get back to the postseason for the first time since 2005. QB Kurt Hess will be a three-year starter and was 189-of-310 passing for 2,322 yards, 22 touchdowns and eight interceptions earning all conference, area and district honors last season.
C-J will need to find some players upfront on defense as well as offense, in addition to Ward and Heck, to protect Hess in the spread offense. There are several young players that saw some time and got some experience last year, including Jemar Rayford, Anthony Curtis and Laron Brown at the skill positions and Quayshawn Littlejohn and Andy Jamantas upfront, which could lift the Eagles back into the postseason.
“Our goal is to be more aggressive on defense, bring more pressure and create turnovers,” head coach Andy Helms said.
C-J will take on Troy, Thurgood Marshall and Columbus Brookhaven before facing a tough schedule against Greater Catholic League with powers Dayton Carroll and Kettering Alter.
Perennial playoff contender Dover appears poised to make a run at the postseason once again with some talented players returning despite the loss of all-everything Matt Rinehart and other players.
“We’ve got a good group of seniors coming up this year as far as leadership is concerned,” head coach Dan Ifft said
Second team All-Ohio Cory Lisowski returns under center in the patented Dover spread offense with wideouts Kyle Sattler and Carson Gessner, although the Tornadoes offense will look a bit different this season.
“You’re going to see more from us than what you’ve seen in the past. We’re going to run the ball more and we think it is time to mature the offense. We’re still confident in the passing game we just want to open it up some more,” said Ifft.
Dover’s nonconference schedule is brutal with Canton South, Avon Lake and Canton Central Catholic to open the season.
Eaton made the postseason for the third straight year last season and only the fifth time in school history.
Josh Slemker tallied 1,461 yards rushing on 272 carries and 22 touchdowns last season.
“We return an experienced offensive line, which must lead the offense,” said head coach Ron Neanen. “Defensively, the defensive line returns the most experience. This team has great work ethic and good enthusiasm.”
Valley View suffered a one-point loss in the opening round of the playoffs last season and is aiming to advance even further this season with a roster full of seniors that have seen significant playing time the past two seasons.
“Our off-season went really well,” head coach Jay Niswonger said. “The kids have gotten stronger and faster. The big thing is these guys were thrown in the fire in 2006. They were like a J.V. team playing a varsity schedule. Last year, there were a lot of games that they couldn’t close the deal because they hadn’t been there and done that.
“Now, this year, we are expecting a lot more out of them,” he added.
Johnny Day, Travis Dalton and Lucas Donson can hurt opponents through the air or on the ground playing multiple skill positions.
Experience on defense will also be a plus for the Spartans against a tough Southwest Buckeye League Schedule.
Five of the seven teams in the SWBL Southwestern Division teams made the playoffs last year, including Valley View, Eaton, Milton-Union, Oakwood and Brookville.
In head coach Brian Hoffman’s first year at the helm of his alma mater, Hubbard reached the postseason but bowed out in the first round.
This season, the Eagles return a flock of talent, particularly on the defensive side of the ball, which should give them a good chance for a longer playoff run. With 10 starters back on defense, Hubbard will be strongest at the linebacker positions in a new 3-5 defense. On offense, Hubbard is faced with the challenge of filling the big shoes three-year starter Marc Kanetsky left behind at quarterback. Sam Bellino, Matt Shelton and Matt Lopuchovsky are in the in running for the starting spot. There are some question marks on the offense line and Hoffman is concerned with how quickly the new line will gel early on.
Hubbard will be competing in the new All-American Conference and will face a tough new schedule.
“We are going to face the toughest schedule Hubbard has faced in about 15 years. Every week is going to be a test,” said Hoffman
Monroe Lemon-Monroe (11-3)
A new era begins in 2008 for Monroe with the departure of Jason Krause to Middletown. In four seasons under Krause, the Hornets went 35-15, made the playoffs three times and reached the state semifinals twice.
Colerain assistant Ken Meibers was named Monroe head coach in late May.
“I am very excited and looking forward to take advantage of a great opportunity,” Meibers said.
He has his work cut out for him, though, with the loss of some talented players to graduation. Second leading rusher Jeremy Campbell (421 yards, eight touchdowns) returns in the backfield as well as the team’s leading receiver Jason Osterman (635 yards, seven touchdowns). S Ben Leahy had 49 tackles last year and TE/DL Stewart Kehl will step into a leading role on defense.
Lake Catholic took its lumps in the regular season last year against a formidable schedule but the Cougars were battle-tested come playoff time and reached the state semifinals. Lake Catholic will be strong at the skill positions this year with Randy Greenwood, a four-year starter and Division I college prospect, toting the ball and Matt Lender under center. Lender took over in Week 6 last year following an Alex Kurowski knee injury and threw for over 1,000 yards with five touchdowns and eight interceptions.
“In the skill positions we have guys with a great deal of experience and guys that are very talented,” head coach Mike Bell said.
The line last year was senior-laden, so Lake Catholic will have new players upfront at nearly every position on both sides of the ball.
“I think we have young men in our program that can fill those holes but they have limited experience,” Bell said.
For the second time in school history last year, Licking Valley finished state runner-up, falling to Sunbury Big Walnut in the Division III title game. The Panthers lose some key players off last year’s teams, including some skill players and a couple offensive linemen.
“We have many holes to fill with a large senior class graduating,” said head coach Randy Baughman.
Drew Ryan will make the move from receiver to quarterback and Ohio State recruit and All-Ohio selection Storm Klein will be the go-to player on offense and defense. Klein had over 100 tackles at LB on defense last year and 1,359 yards rushing with 29 touchdowns.
“For us to be a good team, some of the younger players will need to step up and fill the holes so a lot of the seniors won’t have to play both ways,” Baughman said.
New Philadelphia is looking to end a two-year playoff drought and, while young, the Quakers return players that saw significant playing time last season.
“We feel we have a good nucleus coming back,” head coach Matt Dennison said. “We’re going to be a young team but we feel we have some good kids coming back.”
Tyler Dummermuth is a Division I college prospect and rushed for 600 yards, had 500 yards receiving, 80 tackles and two kickoff returns for touchdowns. Will McEwen started the last four games of the season and tallied 600 yards rushing. Cody Cox has the early nod to step in under center with Jordan Miller now taking snaps at Akron.
On defense, Dummermuth, Hunter Madsen and Matt Burick all return at linebacker
“We feel we’re going to be able to compete against everyone this year,” said Dennison. “We feel we’re going to have a good shot in every game.
Big Walnut raised the state championship trophy in its first trip to the state tournament last season. This season’s team will have quite a different look, though, with the graduation of 20 seniors in some key positions, particularly the skill areas.
“It was a wonderful season last year and we have tried to put it behind us and move forward,” head coach Scott Wetzel said. “We have a lot of new faces and a lot of positions up for grabs. It’s a lot different than last year.”
LB Will Studlien was the Division III defensive player of the year, but suffered a partial ACL tear in his knee in the spring and could miss the beginning of the season. Colton Griffis anchors an experienced line up front with Kalven Baer, Logan Mead, Jon Smith and Nate Scarbury.
“Our goal this year is the same that we had last year and that is to win our first game. Each year is a new team, a new attitude and a new chemistry that you have,” Wetzel said.
Urbana has made the postseason each of the last two seasons but has been ousted in the first round both years. The Hillclimbers are aiming to get over their playoff hump this year with a good nucleus of senior players returning.
“We have a good group of seniors as far as leadership work ethic and character,” head coach David Carroll said.
Urbana faces tough games this year against St. Paris Graham and New Carlisle Tecumseh.
“We hope to continue our winning tradition,” Carroll said. “We feel we can compete for a (Central Buckeye Conference) title and hopefully make the playoffs again. If we attain those goals, our next goal is to improve our performance level in the playoffs.”
The Warriors made the playoffs for the first time since 2004 last year but could potentially be crippled by graduation this year losing a wealth of lettermen. WR/DB Jase Uyselt (5-10, 170, Sr.), WR/DB Chad Butcher (6-1, 170, Sr.), LB/WR Eric Bates (6-1, 180, Sr.), DB/WR Josh Paukner (5-8, 160, Sr.) and OL/DE Chad Hawk (5-11, 195) will all be key players in West Branch’s rebuilding this season.
The Bobcats will be young in 2008 but return 14 starters includingFB Taylor Leppla (6-3, 220, Sr.), DL Lance Morrison (5-11, 225, Sr.), RB Tyler Hardesty (5-11, 205, Jr.), WR/DB Zach Freeman (6-0, 165, Jr.), OL/DL Caleb Gunn (5-9, 205, Soph.).
“We’re going to be a junior oriented team this year,” head coach Rich Goodrich said. “We’re still going to be kind of young but we will have some experience.”
Hardesty rushed for 1,330 yards and 16 touchdowns last season.Ben Shepard (6-2, 205, Sr.) and Billy Webb (5-11, 165, Jr.) will be competing for the starting quarterback job with Webb having the early edge.
Canal Winchester (10-2)
The Indians recorded their first playoff win in school history last year edging Valley View 17-16 in the Regional Quarterfinals.
RB Chris Starner (5-9, 190, Sr.) and OL/LB Eric Wadlington (6-3, 215, Sr.) were All-Mid-State league selections last season and also earned All-Pickaway County honors. DB Jeremiah Weekley (5-10, 175, Jr.) and LB Eddie Strawser (6-3, 215, Jr.) were also all-county selection and K Kort Wolfe (5-7, 175, Jr.) was All-Southeast District and Honorable Mention all-state.
QB K.C. Hawkins (5-10, 175, Soph.), RB Clay Davis (5-9, 165, Soph.), WR Travis Dray (5-8, 145, Sr.), WR Caleb Miller (6-3, 165, Jr.), WR Eric Burris (6-0, 170, Jr.) will all be key players for Circleville this season.
“We lettered eight freshmen last year and they got a lot of experience,” said head coach Keith Downing. “We are really excited about them getting playing time. I think they are ready to go. They had to play for us. We had a small senior class so these young guys got a chance to play.”
Cleveland Benedictine (4-6)
Six-time state champion Benedictine is a dismal 10-20 in the last three seasons but is hopeful in getting back to the playoffs for the first time since 2005 behind ATH Anthony Urbania (6-0, 195, Sr.) and LB Marty Sweeny (6-1, 190, Sr.), who were both All-Ohio selections.
Columbus Eastmoor Academy (9-1)
After moving up from Division IV Eastmoor was left out of the playoffs last season despite suffering only one loss. The Warriors have made the playoffs two of the last five seasons are looking to return with C/NG Darryl Wood (5-10, 240, Sr.), WR/CB Alex Coleman (5-8, 175, Sr.) and OG/LB Victor Rodriguez (6-2, 235, Sr.) all returning.
After 14 seasons at Napoleon, John Snoad has departed to take the reigns at Gahanna Lincoln following four straight playoff appearances. His son, All-Ohio LB Nick Snoad (6-1, 220, Sr.) will follow him to the Lions program.
Tory Strock takes over the Wildcats program after seven year at Leipsic (28-42) and a season at Lima Central Catholic (6-4).
The Little Muskies have made the playoffs the past three seasons and are looking to continue that trend this year. They will have to replace some linemen but look strong at the skill positions.
“We potentially have a very interesting team,” said head coach John Kelley. “I think we’re going to be a different kind of team than we have been in the past – maybe not as much of a power team but we’ll utilize our skill players more.”
RB/CB Haven Holdcroft (6-2, 175, Sr.), QB Josh Fraunfelter (6-1, 190, Sr.) and WR/CB Jake Hagen (6-3, 175, Sr.) will lead the skill positions.
Poland Seminary (7-4)
The Bulldogs made the playoffs last year for the first time since 2002 and are hoping to make it two straight postseason appearances this year with OL/DL Nick Columbo (6-0, 225, Sr.), QB/DB Gannon Hulea (6-3, 215, Sr.), RB/DL Joe Peruzzi (5-10, 220, Sr.), WR/DB Matt Pitzulo (5-11, 195, Sr.), RB/LB Greg Sabol (5-11, 200, Sr.), RB/DB Trent Vallinger (5-11, 195, Sr.) and DBWR Luke Wollet (6-1, 185, Jr.) all returning.
Ravenna made the playoffs for the second time in school history last year but return only six starters for the Ravens.
“It’s time for kids to step up and fill in,” head coach Jim Lunardi said.
RB/SS Blayr Davis (5-11, 180, Sr.) is the premier player on both sides of the ball with QB/WR/FS Jamiran Mack (5-10, 170, Sr.), FB/NG Chris Hudson (5-10, 225, Sr.), and OL/DL Jake Bell (6-3, 270, Sr.) all bring starting experience to the field.
Rocky River (11-1)
Rick Adams takes over the Rocky River program and brings a 47-35 career record to the Pirates. He has had coaching stints at Kenston and Columbia.
Division III Co-Coach of the Year Ron Lewis left Rocky River in February for his alma mater Lakewood.
Second team All-Ohio LB Zach Youseff (5-10, 200, Sr.) returns for the Pirates.
The Bulldogs made the postseason last year coming off a 1-9 season in Division IV in 2006. It was the first playoff berth for Rossford since 2004 and the Bulldogs aim to build on last year’s success this season.
St. Marys Memorial (7-3)
The Roughriders will have to replace the school’s career leading rusher in Koby Frye as well as nine starters on defense. But Memorial is a perennial playoff contender and typically reloads instead of rebuilds. OT Mike Breland (6-4, 290, Sr.) and DT Marcus Neal (6-2, 285, Sr.) are two key players returning for the Roughriders.
Tipp City Tippecanoe (10-1)
The Red Devils have made the postseason all three years but have bowed out in the first round each of those seasons. DB/RB Alex Corner (5-8, 175, Sr.) was a first team All-Central Buckeye Conference selection and RB/DB Camden Sauls (5-9, 170, Sr.) and Ryan Myers were All-Conference Honorable Mention selections. QB Wes Marsh (5-10, 190, Sr.) also returns for Tippecanoe.
Washington Court House Miami Trace (8-3)
The Panthers were a playoff team a year ago but lose Ohio State recruit Nathan Williams and two-year starters Ike Garland and Nathan Martin at the receiver positions. WR/DB Trevor Milstead (5-10, 175, Sr.), a three-year starter, and RB/DE Jimmy Eddlemon (5-10, 195, Sr.) will take the field again this season.
The South Central Ohio League will most likely come down to Miami Trace or Clarksville Clinton-Massie out of Division IV.