Youngstown Ursuline is looking to defend its Division V state title. (Photo by Stephanie Porter)
As is the case with the other divisions across the state of Ohio, Division V saw major changes as a result of this year’s realignment. Gone are Marion Local, Bucyrus Wynford, Portsmouth West and Johnstown-Monroe. Now in are Coldwater and Mechanicsburg. State champ Ursuline hasn't gone anywhere.
As is the case with the other divisions across the state of Ohio, Division V saw major changes as a result of this year’s division realignment.
Gone are playoff teams Maria Stein Marion Local (2007 champion, 2008 semifinalist), Creston Norwayne, Bucyrus Wynford, Portsmouth West and Johnstown-Monroe. Some quality teams, however, have taken their place. Two-time state champion Coldwater moves down from Division IV, while playoff teams Mechanicsburg, Caldwell, East Canton and Mt. Blanchard Riverdale move up from Division VI.
Defending state champion Youngstown Ursuline remains the team to beat, but they are only one of several quality contenders. The Irish could be challenged by Cuyahoga Heights in Region 17. In Region 18, the field will be typically strong, led by what appears to be another quality Hamler Patrick Henry team.
In Region 19, Baltimore Liberty Union will be defending their regional crown behind a solid group of 18 seniors. With teams such as Minford, Fredericktown and Wheelersburg also bringing back plenty of starters, the task will not be easy.
Meanwhile, divisional and regional realignment was not friendly to Region 20. The region lost its champion from the past two years in Maria Stein Marion Local, but the addition of former Division IV powerhouse Coldwater along with Division VI state semifinalist Mechanicsburg and the move of the Columbus teams from Region 19 means that this region could be as strong as ever.
Here is a look at some of the teams to watch this year in Division V.
This tradition-rich program makes the move down to Division V from Division IV and faces the challenge of navigating a tough schedule with a team in rebuilding mode. Only one starter returns on defense while the offense must replace all five starters on the offensive line.
“Both sides of the football need to be rebuilt,” head coach Matt Melle said. “We lost some really productive skill players… We lost all five starters on the line from a year ago and we lost our whole front seven, so to say we have some holes to fill would be an understatement.”
The Redskins returned to the playoffs for the 11th time in 12 years after missing the postseason in 2007 by a fraction of a computer point. The team’s two losses came to two of the best teams in Division V – Kirtland and Youngstown Ursuline – and the Redskins fought hard in each game.
“I thought we had a good year,” head coach Al Martin said. “We lost a tough game to Kirtland somewhere towards the beginning of the season. We played well but made a couple of mistakes, and they beat us 14-7. From there on out, I thought we got better. By the end of the season, we were a pretty good team.”
This year’s team returns 14 starters (six offense, eight defense); including a major college prospect in Zach D’Orazio. Martin feels the offensive line may need some time to develop. But with much of the team coming back, the Redskins appear set to keep on winning and make another run at the postseason.
“I think we have a lot players coming back that got a lot of experience last year,” Martin said. “We did graduate some very important seniors, but at programs like ours at our level – D-V and D-VI – that’s always going to happen. You always have to have younger kids coming in to replace them. But we really like a lot of the kids coming back, and we think the experience last year in the playoffs will be a big help to them.”
The Hornets had a tremendous season in 2008, posting the first 12-win season in school history and narrowly missing a win over eventual state champion Youngstown Ursuline in the regional finals.
“We were pretty solid all the way around,” head coach Tiger LaVerde said. “We didn’t have a whole lot of weaknesses. We had some experienced kids that had a lot of playing time and had started a lot of games, and I figured we would have a chance to be really good. You never know, but we had a chance to be good and it turned out real well.”
The departing group of players – nine of whom moved on to play college football – helped raise the bar in Kirtland, notching three consecutive playoff berths after the school had just two prior appearances in its history. This year’s Kirtland team will be a younger group, returning just two starters on offense and three on defense. Leading the way will be Anthony Ritossa, who has verbally committed to play at the University of Akron.
“Last year, one of our big strengths was up front,” LaVerde said. “We had a great group on the offensive and defensive line, and they’re all gone. I think we still have some pretty good skill position (players). We have a good quarterback, but really the key’s going to be how well we do on the line of scrimmage.”
South Range’s streak of seasons with double-digit wins was snapped at five last year, but the Raiders still found themselves in a familiar spot – the state playoffs. Head coach Dan Yeagley viewed the season as a success.
“Things went actually pretty well last year,” Yeagley said. “We were really actually inexperienced last year, and then we had some injuries throughout the season which really made us really inexperienced last year. We had some young kids and some seniors step up and perform very, very well for us.”
This year’s team returns three starters on each side of the ball. Yeagley likes what he sees at the skill positions but feels the team will need to develop along the offensive line.
“We lost a lot of offensive linemen,” Yeagley said. “That’s going to be our weakness this year is going to be the offensive line. We have Tim Shives coming back who started for us at tackle, and he’s our only offensive lineman, so we’ve got a lot to replace there. But I think it’s going to be pretty good. Our schedule’s going to be the tough thing.”
Youngstown Ursuline (15-0)
Youngstown Ursuline put together an extremely impressive list of wins last season, including regular season victories over Massillon Washington, Warren Harding, Youngstown Mooney, and Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary, along with two playoff wins over previously unbeaten Kirtland and Findlay Liberty-Benton. The Irish won their first state championship since 2000.
Several key players are gone from last year’s team, but a solid core returns, especially at the skill positions. Jones and Teague bring speed and experience to the running back position, while Kempe and Harris both have experience at quarterback.
One question mark is the status of Ohio State verbal Jamel Turner at defensive end. As of press time, it was unclear whether Turner would be back for his senior year at Ursuline.
Also Keep An Eye On
Apple Creek Waynedale (8-3)
The Golden Bears will be aiming for their third straight playoff appearance. Two-time All-Ohio running back Thad Nofsinger will be missed.
Burton Berkshire (7-3)
The Badgers drop down from D-IV, Region 13 and could be postseason contenders.
Columbiana Crestview (10-2)
Always a tough team to deal with, the Rebels have made the postseason five of the last six years and will be expected by many to do so once again in 2009.
East Canton (7-4)
The Skippers struggled last year but do return first team All-Ohio receiver Aramis Greenwood (6-1, 175).
Gates Mills Gilmour Academy (10-2)
The Lancers posted another strong season in 2008 but now face a transition period with the retirement of head coach Bob Spicer and the departure of a strong group of players that included two first-team All-Ohio performers in RB Tom Hallal and QB Billy Urban.
Rocky River Lutheran West (7-3)
The Longhorns narrowly missed the playoffs in 2008, finishing ranked ninth in Region 17.
The Smithies were a competitive team in 2008 that lost some tough games and will be looking to get over the hump and return to the postseason in 2009.
Sugarcreek Garaway (7-3)
The Pirates will be looking to improve on their seven-win season of 2008 but will miss graduated first-team All-Ohio quarterback David Gerber.
Other Teams In The Region
Brookfield (4-6); East Palestine (4-6); Garfield Heights Trinity (5-5); Gates Mills Hawken (4-6); United Hanoverton (6-4); Independence (4-6); Lisbon David Anderson (0-10); Louisville St. Thomas Aquinas (3-6); Middlefield Cardinal (6-4); Mineral Ridge (3-7); New Middletown Springfield (5-5); Newcomerstown (2-8); Orwell Grand Valley (3-7); Richmond Heights (6-4); Rootstown (1-9); West Salem Northwestern (3-7)
The Crestview Cougars bounced back from an uncharacteristic losing season in 2007 to notch nine regular season wins and a playoff berth.
“The previous year, we came off a 4-6 season,” head coach Sean Conway said. “I think we had exceeded what the public’s expectations of us were, but at the same time, that’s the type of program that we hope to put together in the future – a team that’s capable of doing something like that. I attribute it to a lot of hard work and dedication from the kids, and there was outstanding leadership from last year’s senior class. They’re going to be greatly missed here in the future.”
Crestview ran into a tough opening round matchup in the playoffs, having to face off with powerhouse Hamler Patrick Henry. The Cougars’ postseason was cut short at the hands of Patrick Henry, but the experience has motivated this year’s team, which returns 11 total starters on offense and defense.
“The goal is still to win Week 1, because we do have a difficult schedule,” Conway said. “But I do think last year’s success has self-motivated the kids. This seems to be the most self-motivated Crestview offseason we’ve had. I don’t know if it will translate into wins and losses, but I’m definitely happy with the way the kids are working and the dedication that they’ve shown.”
With most of their players returning from 2007’s playoff team, expectations were high for Tinora in 2008. But tough losses to three playoff teams, including Division VI state champion Delphos St. John’s, left the Rams out of the postseason.
Head coach Ken Krouse says there was some disappointment in finishing out of the playoffs.
“The bar has been raised for our program,” Krouse said. “Ten years ago, you take (the 7-3 record) and run, but with the success we’ve had recently, obviously we wish we had won our league and gotten to the postseason, which we didn’t.”
The good news for the Rams is that last year’s team was still mostly underclassmen, and this year, nine starters return on both sides of the ball. The expectations will be to make noise in the postseason again, but the Rams will have to do better against the three teams that bested them in 2008.
“It’s the same as what we faced last year,” Krouse said. “Our games 1, 2, and 4 are huge, and those are the three games we lost, with Liberty Center, Delphos (St. John’s) and then Sherwood Fairview being our first league game. It is huge that we get off to a good start.”
Delphos Jefferson (9-2)
Jefferson put together a strong season in 2009 but ran into juggernaut Findlay Liberty-Benton in the opening round of the playoffs. The Wildcats lost 19 seniors from last year’s group and also will have a new head coach this year in Bub Lindeman.
Lindeman feels his team will have the postseason as a goal once again.
“(They) will be hungry to prove that they are a playoff-caliber team,” Lindeman said.
The Eagles were nothing short of dominant in 2008. After winning 14 straight games – nine of which were shutouts and none of which were closer than 20 points – Liberty-Benton was defeated by another unbeaten team, Youngstown Ursuline, in the state finals.
“We fell a little short of what we wanted to do once we made it up to Massillon,” head coach Tim Nichols said, “but I think it’s something that hopefully will help benefit our program down the road – that we had a team that did achieve that level and hopefully will inspire kids to try to get back to that. It was just a great experience. That’s why you coach and play. Once you do it once, you want to do it again.”
Nichols cites a strong group of seniors for last year’s success, most of whom had played together since sixth grade.
“You just can’t put a price on senior leadership, and we had that,” Nichols said. “Things just came together. We stayed injury free for the most part, but when you just get a group of kids that stayed together that long, I think good things are going to happen for you.”
This year’s team returns just one starter on offense and two on defense. Those numbers will increase by one if QB/DB Aaron Craft, the reigning Division V Offensive Player of the Year, decides to play football as a senior. Craft has committed to Ohio State to play basketball. As of press time, his future on the gridiron was up in the air.
Regardless of what Craft decides, Nichols thinks last year’s seniors set the tone for more success in the future.
“I hope we can continue on and play at a pretty good level,” Nichols said. “There’s going to be some new names and new faces, but I think once again those seniors provided what needs to be done in the offseason and preseason. We’re probably not going to change too many things.”
The train kept rolling for Hamler Patrick Henry last season. The Patriots won their seventh straight conference title – the longest in the history of Ohio’s oldest high school sports conference, the Northwest Ohio Athletic League – and their fifth appearance in the regional finals in six years before losing to state runner-up Liberty-Benton.
“I think we had a very good season with what we wanted to get into, and I think we lost to a very good football team,” head coach Bill Inselmann said. “So I think we achieved most of our goals.”
This year’s team returns a good core of five starters on offense and six on defense, including a 1,600-yard rusher in Buenger and an experienced QB in George. But the wide receiver position as well as the lines could need some development.
“The biggest rebuilding area probably in the last eight years we’ve had to have at a key position is our wide receiver position,” Inselmann said. “We lost some good ones there and lost all of our depth, so wide receiver is going to be our biggest question mark going into the season.
“It’ll be an interesting season depending on how our youth develops on the offensive line, defensive interior and especially at wide receiver.”
But coming into the season, Patrick Henry remains a program with big expectations.
“One of the biggest things we have going right now is our kids are confident,” Inselmann said. “They believe they can win, so that’s probably something I think that’s really picked up over this last eight years.”
The Riverdale Falcons had a special season in 2008, posting an 8-2 record and making the postseason for the first time in school history. The experience was one to remember.
“The community, for never having gone to the playoffs, was very ecstatic about it,” head coach Jeremy Kloepfer said. “You have all kinds of people talking to you, talking to the kids, cheering for the kids on Friday nights. It was just a one-of-a-kind experience for the kids, and I’m glad that I could help be a part of that and try and get them to that level.”
Kloepfer gives much of the credit to a group of experienced seniors that experienced a winless season as freshmen but persevered and made the playoffs in their final year.
“Going into it, we definitely thought we’d have a good season due to the experience we had at the senior level,” Kloepfer said. “We had about nine guys who had played varsity for three years probably.
“For those seniors, going 0-10 as freshmen, that was a heck of an accomplishment and achievement for those kids, going out in their senior year 8-2.”
This year’s team returns eight starters on offense and five on defense and moves up to Division V from Division VI. Kloepfer feels that the offense will be a strength, while cutting back on turnovers and getting continuity on defense will be the biggest things to address.
“We’ve definitely got to get some continuity early on,” Kloepfer said. “That way everybody knows their gaps and their assignments and just how the person next to them plays their spot.”
In Kloepfer’s first three years the Falcons have gone 2-8, 5-5 and 8-3. The four years prior to his arrival the program went 1-39.
Weber returns after throwing for over 2,000 yards and 15 TDs last season.
After dropping their season opener to Kansas Lakota, Northwood steamrolled their way to a 9-1 regular season, winning their final nine games by an average of 35 points per game. Unfortunately, the computer points weren’t there for the Rangers to make the playoffs.
“It was one of the most fun years I’ve had in coaching just in terms of being around the kids,” head coach Ken James said. “We enjoyed it. Obviously we lost real early – turned it over five times, and we can’t do that and win against a good team. That obviously ended up biting us in the rear end at the end, and we knew that we might have to go 10-0 to get in. Region 18’s a little difficult.”
The Rangers return six starters on defense and five on offense. The schedule has gotten tougher with newly-added games against Division VI finalist Hopewell-Loudon and Division IV semifinalist Genoa, but Northwood will still expect to have another good season.
“I’m sad to seniors go, but by the same token we have a bunch of what we think are really good players coming back and a really good freshman class coming in,” James said. “Our program’s stable, so we think we’re going to have a real solid year again this year.”
The Apaches were in their first season under new head coach Dave Robinson last year, but the team didn’t miss a beat and continued their winning ways with a conference title and a playoff berth.
“Last year, I was very pleased with the way the kids reacted to the change in the head coach’s position,” Robinson said. “My mentor and long-term coach Bob Olwin left and went down to Versailles. Football’s pretty important to the people and the kids in this community, and losing somebody like him and replacing him with somebody like me who’d never had any experience being a head coach, that was going to be a big change. But the entire staff stayed on and the kids reacted very well, very positive to everything.”
This year’s Apache squad returns six starters on offense and seven on defense. Robinson expects it to be another winning year at Fairview.
“We go into every season talking to our kids that our expectation is that we’re going to win the league title and we’re going to be back in the playoffs,” Robinson said. “That doesn’t change. We never talk about anything less than that.
“We have some huge voids to fill. Probably for the first time in a long time, defensively we have quite a few kids coming back, but as far as quarterback experience, for the first time in quite a few years, we’re going to be lacking there. We do have two juniors that will probably be playing for that spot that put on time on their own throwing and working and doing things to help prepare themselves to take that spot.”
Also Keep An Eye On
The Blue Streaks made their second straight playoff appearance in 2008, this time bringing home a postseason win over Liberty Center. They will try to do it again this year with a new head coach.
Collins Western Reserve (9-3)
Losses to three playoff teams (Creston Norwayne, Norwalk St. Paul, Ashland Crestview) kept the Roughriders out of the playoffs last year.
The Aces got out of the gate strong with eight straight wins to start the season but fell to two tough teams (Sherwood Fairview and Defiance Tinora) to end the year.
Lafayette Allen East (2-8)
The Mustangs move up from Division VI to Division V and hope to continue to build up the program.
“The athletes have been able to benefit from a full offseason strength and conditioning program this year,” head coach Cam Staley said. “We were a young team last season and will be again, but many of the 2008 sophomore class gained valuable experience playing on Friday night. We look forward to returning Allen East to a competitive program in the Northwest conference.”
Liberty Center (9-2)
Longtime head coach Rex Lingruen’s crew will be hoping to make another appearance in the postseason.
Lima Central Catholic (5-5)
After having a strong stretch between 2004 and 2007, the Thunderbirds fell to .500 last season, losing four games by seven points or less. Opener with Delphos St. John’s, the reigning D-VI state champion, will set the tone.
Other Teams In The Region
Bloomdale Elmwood (6-4); Bluffton (4-6); Castallia Margaretta (3-7); Columbia Station Columbia (1-9); Delta (2-8); Elmore Woodmore (2-8); Gibsonburg (5-5); Haviland Wayne Trace (3-7); Jeromesville Hillsdale (6-4); Kansas Lakota (5-5); Loudonville (3-7); Montpelier (0-10); New London (6-4); North Robinson Colonel Crawford (2-8); Oberlin (6-4); Plymouth (3-7); Spencerville (4-6)