With athleticism and speed at the skill positions, Lake looks to have the keys to unlock the recent stranglehold Genoa has had in the Northern Buckeye Conference.
Led by record-setting senior quarterback Jared Rettig, the Flyers are predicted to jet up to the top of the NBC standings.
Rettig, who led Lake to the third playoff appearance in school history last year, has already set a school record with 6,704 career yards along with 80 touchdowns. The 6-foot-1 gunslinger also has his top two targets back in junior Adam Duncan (958 receiving yards, 11 touchdowns) and senior Todd Walters (799 receiving yards, 13 TDs). Running back Branden Short also returns after rushing for 896 yards and 11 TDs.
Lake coach Mark Emans, who enters his second season at the helm, turned a 4-6 team into an 8-3 squad last season.
Emans, who coached at Wauseon for 21 seasons and led the Indians to a Division III state championship in 1993, said he is excited about his offense’s potential.
“We have good team speed, and we will utilize that in a bunch of different ways,” Emans said.
Last season, Rettig completed 138 of 212 passes for 2,347 yards and 31 TDs with only six interceptions. He earned All-NBC first-team honors as a quarterback and defensive back.
Lake earned four first-place votes in a preseason coaches poll and has been tabbed the favorites. Two-time defending champion Genoa received two first-place votes, followed by Eastwood, which also drew two first-place votes.
“That is a indication of the progress we’ve made,” Emans said. “Maybe it’s some respect from coaches and that we have talented kids coming back. We have mature kids, and they understand that they are the hunted and everyone is going to give us their best shot.”
Lake will be seeking the school’s first league title since 2001, when the Flyers won their first and only Suburban Lakes League title. Lake, which played in the Northern Lakes League from 1960-1996, captured NLL titles in 1971, 1978, 1981, and 1983.
“But until someone knocks [Genoa and Eastwood] off the pedestal, they are the front runners,” Emans said.
The coach may be new but the expectations remain sky high at Genoa. The Comets (10-1) have dominated the NBC and its predecessor, the SLL, for half a decade. Genoa won the final three SLL titles, then captured back-to-back NBC titles, taking five of the last six championships since 2007. The Comets have won six league championships (46-1 league record) during the last seven years.
Paul Patterson, an assistant at Genoa last year, takes over a program that has made seven straight playoff appearances (77-9 overall) under prior coaches Mike Vicars (2007-2011) and Tim Spiess (2012-13).
Patterson has 55 players, and his team should be athletic on the lines along with a quality kicking game and physical play. But there will be a lack of depth at certain positions.
Patterson must fill in the holes left by last year’s talented senior class. He lost six players who made the All-NBC first team, including the league’s player and lineman of the year.
“We’ll look to continue to build on the recent winning tradition by continuing to play physical on both sides of the ball,” Patterson said. “The 2014 Comets will have to continue the winning tradition by replacing a large number of graduating seniors on both sides of the ball.”
Eastwood (8-3), which won the inaugural NBC title in 2011 and finished tied for second last season, is again expected to be a top contender. The Eagles look to return to the playoffs after they lost 42-16 to eventual state champion Coldwater in a Division V regional playoff opener last season.
The Eagles won five straight league titles from 2002-06. Eastwood also has earned a playoff berth in five of the last seven years.
“Our expectation is to play for a conference championship and make the playoffs,” veteran coach Jerry Rutherford said. “Anything less than that would be a disappointment.”
The Eagles will once again rely on speedy skill players to pile up yards and points. Eastwood outscored its opponents 432-185 last year.
Senior speedster Devin Snowden, who helped Eastwood win a state title in the 1600-meter relay in track, was second in the league in rushing last year, finishing with 1,154 yards.
Senior Grant Geiser, who ranked third on the team in rushing, takes over at QB. Geiser, who led the Eagles in tackles, and Snowden earned All-NBC first-team honors along with senior lineman Caleb Tussing.
Lake, Genoa, and Eastwood all qualified for the playoffs last season. But all three lost in the opening round.
Rossford (6-4) has posted back-to-back six-win seasons after winning only one game in the previous two seasons combined under Todd Drusback, who enters his fifth season. John Allen returns at quarterback after accounting for 1,111 passing yards and 12 touchdowns along with 315 rushing yards.
Otsego (4-6) should be strong in the trenches with experience returning along the offensive and defensive lines.
Elmwood’s third-year coach, Brian Cooper, said he likes team’s athleticism, camaraderie, and work ethic. The Royals (1-9) are seeking their first title since winning the Suburban Lakes League in 2006.
At Woodmore (6-4), Brian Spicer takes over after six previous coaching stops. Spicer, who played at storied Massillon Washington, said he likes his team’s speed.
At Fostoria (0-10), Derek Kidwell returns to his alma mater, aiming to turn things around. Kidwell left Fremont Ross in hopes of ending the Redmen’s 23-game losing streak.
Lake had three different coaches in as many seasons before Emans took over in 2013.
“The basketball and baseball programs have had great success here,” Emans said. “We just want to have a little piece of that pie. The Lake athletic community is very supportive. We want to get on par with those programs. We do not want to be satisfied being the third-best team in our league.
“Our players want to take another step forward with our program.”