Aurora won the D-III title last season but moves up to D-II for at least the next two seasons (Photo by Gary Housteau)
There is a tremendous amount of change in Division II this
season with several top-notch programs moving in and out of the division, and
many other teams switching regions. All 2008 Division II state semifinalists are no longer in the division but 2008 Division III state champ Aurora joins the D-II ranks as well as 2007 champ Sunbury Big Walnut. Note: Individual team previews will follow over the next six weeks
There is a tremendous amount of change in Division II this
season with several top-notch programs moving in and out of the division, and
many other teams switching regions.
How much change exactly? Well, try this on for starters:
All 2008 Division II state semifinalists are no longer in the division,
including state champion Sylvania Southview and runner-up Cincinnati Anderson
who are both moving up to D-I. (The other semifinalists were Akron Hoban and
Columbus DeSales, who are each moving down to D-III this year.)
However, plenty of talented programs have replaced the ones
that have departed. Perhaps the most notable addition is the return of Columbus
Brookhaven to the Division II ranks. The Bearcats won the 2004 D-II state
championship, but moved up to D-I the following season. They are now back in
Division II where they feel like they belong.
Also joining Division II this season are 2008 D-III state
champion Aurora and 2007 D-III state champ Sunbury Big Walnut.o
Despite all the alterations to Division II, plenty of the usual suspects are right where they have been for
years. Fans can expect recent D-II powers like Avon Lake, Cincinnati Turpin,
Cincinnati Winton Woods, Columbus Marion-Franklin, Lexington, Logan, Louisville
and Toledo Central Catholic to be strong squads once again.
Garfield narrowly missed the playoffs last
year in Division I (11th in Region 2) and this year the Rams move
down to D-II which should help their postseason chances.
Tyson Gulley is ranked as the No. 67 senior in
the state by Ohio High and has scholarship offers from Akron, Ball State,
Bowling Green, Central Michigan, Eastern Michigan, Kansas, Kent State, Miami U.,
Ohio U., Syracuse and Toledo. Last season, he had 1,376 rushing yards (7.9 yards
per carry) and a total of 22 touchdowns (18 rushing, two on kickoff returns, one
on a punt return and one on a fumble return). He played sparingly on defense
last year, but had 15 tackles, three fumble recoveries, two forced fumbles and
Younger brother Toneo Gulley is ranked as the
No. 10 sophomore in the state according to Ohio High. Last year as the only
freshman on Garfield’s varsity, he had 64 tackles, five pass break-ups, a fumble
recovery returned for a touchdown and a forced fumble.
Davonne Dixon had 35 tackles and a fumble
recovery and will have a bigger role offensively and defensively this season.
“Sheldon Spaulding, Kevin Jones and Kevin
Brewton did an outstanding job run blocking for us,” head coach Bob Sax said.
Sax is honest when asked about moving down a
division. He knows nothing will come easy, but believes it will help his team’s
“We are excited about dropping down to D-II,”
he said. “Our region is very strong, but we feel like we can compete at a high
level with these teams. Our schedule is primarily a bunch of D-II teams, so
finally getting to compete for a playoff spot in D-II is beneficial for us.”
Aurora roared to the Division III state
championship last year and the Greenmen are moving up to D-II this season. The
problem is, they graduated an extremely talented senior class, including OL/DL
Adam Bellamy (now at Ohio State), QB Brendan Gallagher and WR/CB Dee Brizzolara.
Aurora beat Sunbury Big Walnut (which also moves up to D-II this season) 20-14
in the state semifinals and then knocked off Columbus Eastmoor 21-10 in the
“Last year was a magical season,” head coach
Bob Mahalik said. “You have to have so many things go right to win a state
title. Fire and foremost, we had great senior leadership and good kids that
believed in each other. And we were talented and we had some breaks go our way.”
Ty Watson – who played some linebacker last
year – takes over the quarterback duties this season and the coaching staff is
confident in him.
The Greenmen return five key starters from
their championship squad. Mike Ganoe and Steven Snyder each hauled in over 20
receptions last year. Their roles will increase both as receivers and defensive
backs. Eric Schultz was the defensive MVP in the state title game with two sacks
and the interception which clinched the game. His role will also increase,
especially offensively at tailback. Even with the loss of Bellamy who started both
ways, Aurora returns solid offensive and defensive lines. Ben Jubell graded out
very high last year and he returns at center. Mitch Knapp will anchor the
defensive line and Mahalik calls him a “strong kid who never leaves the field
and is a throwback football player.”
As for moving up in competition to Division
II, the Greenmen think they are ready for the challenge.
“We kind of knew it was coming,” Mahalik said.
“We were one of the biggest D-III schools the last couple years. We had an
inkling it would happen and it’s exciting. If we’re fortunate enough to make the
playoffs, we’ll face new teams and it’s a new challenge."
Cuyahoga Falls Walsh Jesuit (9-3)
Walsh was the No. 1 seed in Region 9 of
Division III last year and the Warriors move up to D-II this season. RB Cameron
Ontko is ranked as one of the top 150 seniors in the state by Ohio High and has
a scholarship offer from Eastern Michigan. Connor Cook is one of the top 10
junior quarterbacks in the state according to Ohio High. He has a strong arm and
4.71 speed in the 40.
The bad news for the Warriors is they have to
replace all five starters on the offensive line, including second-team All-Ohio
selection Pat McShane who is playing college football at Indiana. They also must
replace second-team All-Ohio running back Armand Dehaney who signed with Ball
Head coach Gerry Rardin is entering his 29th
season at Walsh.
Roosevelt is the first team we’ve featured so
far in Region 5 that was actually in this region last year. The Rough Riders won
the Portage Trail Conference championship and made the playoffs as the No. 8
seed in 2008. This season, they have even higher expectations for themselves.
“Our expectations are high,” head coach John
Nemec said. “We feel we have a lot of returners and we had a good off-season in
the weight program. The kids showed up and worked hard. We have a lot of other
players that weren’t mentioned that are real solid players on the high school
WR/DB Denerio Bryant is ranked as one of the
top 150 players in the state by Ohio High and was a first-team All-Ohio
selection at cornerback last year when he tied a school record with six
interceptions. He also had 43 receptions for 760 yards (17.7 yards per catch)
and nine touchdowns. He also averaged 30.6 yards on kickoff returns (one
touchdown) and 11.2 yards on punt returns.
Evan Shimensky returns as the starting
quarterback and he threw for 1,346 yards and 18 touchdowns last year. He also
had 291 rushing yards and seven scores on the ground. Those were pretty solid
numbers for a sophomore.
The Rough Riders return a rough-and-tumble
center in Eric Pucillo who can bench 315 pounds and is probably the strongest
overall player on the team according to Nemec.
Roosevelt also has plenty of team speed and
Shakeel Howard is near the top of the list as he is consistently timed in the
4.5 range in the 40. Last season, he had 29 receptions for 281 yards (9.7 yards
per catch) and three touchdowns, and added 140 rushing yards (5.6 yards per
carry). Howard wasn’t the only freshman that received
a lot of playing time last year though. Ryan Anderson received a few starts at
offensive guard and he’s a strong player with 5.2 speed in the 40.
Defensively, LB Marcus Rogers was the team’s
leading tackler last year with 66 (55 solo). Sam Thomas was not too far behind
with 62 stops (43 solo). The “captain” of the defense is Marcus Wright who had
55 tackles last year (32 solo).
The Blue Streaks won a playoff game for the
first time in school history last season. They were the No. 7 seed in Region 5
and they knocked off East Cleveland Shaw on the road in the first round. This
year, they return a solid nucleus of players and are optimistic about the
“Our expectations are the same as any other
year,” offensive coordinator Mike Martin said. “Our primary goal is to win our
league (Premier Athletic Conference). We feel that whoever wins the league will
end up being in the playoffs, because if you were good enough to take care of
business in the conference, your out-of-conference work should be good enough to
get you in.
The biggest hole for Madison to fill is the
loss of Mitch Krotz, who was a first-team All-Ohio selection last year at
linebacker. The Blue Streaks know the road will be difficult in the Region 5
playoffs if they are able to qualify for the postseason again.
“Every time the regions get realigned, it
seems like Region 5 gets tougher,” Martin said. “Aurora was a state champ last
year. Lake Catholic is usually good. Traditional powers like Canfield and Walsh
have been added. Plus, Akron Garfield is moving down from Division I.”
Highland was a regional finalist out of Region
6 last year. The Hornets entered the postseason with the No. 4 seed and defeated
Avon Lake and Powell Olentangy Liberty. This season, Highland is moving over to
Aaron Maslowski is ranked as one of the top
150 seniors in the state by Ohio High. Last year, he had 432 rushing yards (7.2
yards per carry) and six total touchdowns (four rushing, one receiving, one
interception return). His role will expand quite a bit this season and he will
likely have more than double the carries he did last year.
Another top returning player is the versatile
Tyler Phillips who had 70 tackles and 4.5 sacks last year. Jared Serafin had 65 tackles last year at
linebacker and will also start at fullback this year.
Anthony Petrilla returns as the starting
strong safety (65 tackles last year) and he’ll also be the backup quarterback.
(The starting QB will likely be a sophomore and head coach Tom Lombardo didn’t
want to mention him for this story because the situation was still unsettled.). Two other players that are drawing a lot of
buzz for the Hornets are Chris Justik and Colin Butler. They started at
defensive tackle as sophomores and they each look to be two-way players this
“They had real good sophomore years,” Lombardo
said. “They have great technique, they’re very strong and they’re going to be
good for us on both sides of ball.”
Highland graduated three players that were
first-team All-Ohio selections last year: RB/LB Chris Snook (who signed with
West Virginia), LB Tyler Houska and PK Eric Duale.
Ravenna made the playoffs as the No. 6 seed in
Region 9 of Division III last year (lost to Hubbard on the road in the first
round) and it moves up to D-II this season. The Ravens have now made the
playoffs two consecutive seasons and three times in school history.
“We have a really good junior class of kids
that really helped us out playing as sophomores last year,” head coach Jim
Lunardi said. “Last year, we really weren’t sure if we were going to make it
back to the playoffs – we were hoping to obviously – but that sophomore class
really helped bridge that gap.”
“(D.J.) Jones scored 42 touchdowns in freshman
ball and played some varsity and Ohio State has called about him. He is a just a
hard runner and has motor that goes. I might have made the mistake of not moving
him up (to varsity) early enough but he definitely is a good football player.”
If it sounds like Lunardi is optimistic about
the upcoming season, you don’t need to get your hearing checked.
“I feel good in the sense that we had a really
good off-season,” Lunardi said. “Time will tell what happens and we’ll take one
day at a time, but according to our off-season, it was the best that we’ve ever
had. If that is any indication, then hopefully we can at least compete for the
league and make it back into the playoffs and make a run for it."
Ravenna won the Portage Trail Conference
championship in 2007 and placed second last year. The Ravens turned the ball
over seven times in a 19-12 loss at Kent Roosevelt in what amounted to the
league title game.
The Blue Devils return two – count ‘em, two –
starters this season but they always seem to find themselves in the playoff
hunt. Last year, they were the No. 6 seed in the Region 5 playoffs and they
knocked off Parma Padua Franciscan on the road in the first round and then
defeated Madison. They lost to Akron Hoban in the regional finals, but it was
another successful season for head coach Joe Vassalotti and crew.
“We graduated 20 starters from last year’s
regional final team, so we’ll be very inexperienced this season,” Vassalotti
said. “We only have two returning starters (Reedy and Emling) but we do have a
lot of talented kids coming back that got a little bit of playing time last year
in reserve roles.
“We have many questions that won’t be answered
until we begin full contact drills. Our overall lack of team speed is a concern.
We hope to improve to the point where we can be competitive against a schedule
that includes Nordonia, Ellet and Ashland, in addition to the quality teams we
face in the Suburban League.
“I also think that Region 5 appears to have
become stronger with the additions of teams like Walsh and Aurora.”
Also Keep An Eye On
The Cardinals finished 10th in Region 7 of
Division II in 2008 and they move over to Region 5 this season. It was a rarity
for them to miss the playoffs last year and they will likely be a contender this
Mentor Lake Catholic (4-6)
The Cougars placed just 15th in Region 9 of
Division III and they are moving up to D-II this year. However, a few coaches
have mentioned them as a team that could surprise.
The Tigers qualified for the playoffs in
Region 5 last year as the No. 4 seed (lost to Akron Hoban in the first round).
This year, they return QB Matt Preston (6-2, 195, Sr.) and RB Mike Mangiarelli
(5-11, 175, Sr.).