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After last year’s historic season, Perrysburg has become the hunted in the Northern Lakes League. The Yellow Jackets appear fully equipped to defend their position this season.
Perrysburg went undefeated in the NLL (7-0) to win the program’s first title since 2006 and captured the first playoff win in school history.
With talent back at the skill positions as well as experience returning along the lines, the Yellow Jackets are tabbed as the favorites to repeat, according to a preseason coaches’ poll.
“It builds every year,” said Perrysburg coach Matt Kregel, who enters his ninth season with a 59-25 career record. “The kids know the expectations now. These guys really have to come to play because they are not the underdog any more. They are the hunted.”
Perennial powerhouse Southview, which dominated the league for nine seasons, is picked to finish second. Napoleon, which won the NLL in its first season in the league in 2012, is pegged third, followed by Anthony Wayne and Springfield.
Perrysburg senior quarterback Gus Dimmerling led the Yellow Jackets’ ascension and made a name for himself. The dual-threat QB threw for a school-record 1,688 yards and also rushed for a team-high 1,207 yards and 15 scores.
“I almost like having that target on our back,” Dimmerling said. “You know teams are going to bring their best. It will be big games, and it should be a lot of fun.”
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Dimmerling accounted for 336 yards in Perrysburg’s unprecedented 28-21 win over Akron Ellet in a Division II playoff opener. But Dimmerling was sidelined with an injury in the Yellow Jackets’ 24-21 loss to Avon the following week in the regional semifinals.
“It has motivated me to push to work harder this year,” Dimmerling said. “I’m really excited for what we have back. We did lose a couple of key guys, but we have guys stepping up. With all the threats we have offensively and defensively, I think we will be tough to stop.”
Another weapon emerged for Perrysburg when sophomore Trevor Hafner filled in for Dimmerling in the playoff game. Hafner accounted for 390 yards and two touchdowns. Kregel plans to use both Dimmerling and Hafner at quarterback this season.
“We will use them both in certain situations and different formations. We will make defenses decide who they should defend,” Kregel said. “We will have some fun with it.”
Hafner said he is “really excited” about the offense’s potential.
“Gus is a really dangerous receiver. I’d love to get it to him in open space,” Hafner said. “We could possibly be one of the best offenses in the state with our skill positions and our linemen returning. It’s going to be fun.”
Dimmerling is among four All-NLL first team players back along with Cale Bonner (OT/DT), Chaz Westfall (OG/LB), and Seth Durham (WR/DB).
“If we stay healthy and develop as a team we should have a chance to compete for another NLL championship,” Kregel said.
Prior to Napoleon’s leap to the top, Southview had won or shared eight of the previous nine NLL championships beginning in 2003. The Cougars had won five in a row before Napoleon.
In more than two decades at the helm of the Southview program, Jim Mayzes has gone through a winless season and a one-win season. But no team dominated the NLL more than his Cougars from 2003-11.
Southview (7-3) has endured a rare two-season title drought. The Cougars still garnered two first-place votes in the preseason poll.
“It’s good we weren’t picked to finish first,” Mayzes said. “We will use it as motivation. Now we have something to prove. It’s good to be the underdog.”
Southview has its top running back returning with senior Keith Gilmore. He has the third-most rushing yards among returning backs in the NLL this season. He carried 112 times for 751 yards (6.7 per carry) last year.
Junior quarterback Sam Stout also saw significant time. The defense should be strong at the linebacker position.
But the Cougars, who will play their first-ever home game on Aug. 29, lost their top scorer and receiver among four All-NLL first team players that have graduated.
“Everyone in our league shows up to play every week,” Mayzes said. “If someone beats us they will be excited.”
Napoleon (6-5) was the only team other than Perrysburg in the NLL to make the playoffs last year. The Wildcats, who qualified for the 12th time in school history, fell 35-11 to Sandusky Perkins in a Division III opener.
Napoleon broke on to the scene in a big way with an NLL title in the Wildcats’ first year in the league. Seventh-year coach Tory Strock has large numbers (63 total) as well as five starters back on offense and six on defense.
Senior quarterback Blake Dunbar returns after accounting for 1,350 yards. Dunbar completed 72 of 139 passes for 954 yards and 11 touchdowns. He also was the team’s third-leading rusher with 80 carries for 396 yards (5.0).
“I like our experience,” Strock said. “The NLL will be balanced. We fully expect to contend for the NLL title and a spot in the playoffs once again.”
Anthony Wayne (5-5) has good numbers (65 total) and a large senior class (25). The Generals will once again employ its traditional Wing-T attack behind 6-foot-5 and 285-pound center Mason Zimmerman, who will play at the University of Maryland. Talented sophomore running back Evan Brown also returns.
Brown made an immediate impact as a freshman, when he started for the Generals and ranked fifth in the league in rushing. Brown carried 91 times for 767 yards (8.4 per carry) and scored nine TDs. He is the second leading returning rusher in the NLL.
AW has a solid defensive core returning as well.
AW coach Craig Smith enters his 18th season with a career record of 102-68. The Generals have made four playoff appearances under Smith, with the last coming in 2011.
“This team is disciplined, hard working, and a close-knit group,” Smith said. “They work extremely hard, and we have some playmakers on offense. The defense will be solid and returns a good nucleus. We expect to be very competitive each and every week.”
Springfield coach Pat Guiccardo enters his third season with his complex systems now in place. He also has the league’s top passer back in junior Scott Seymour along with speed at the skill positions and depth along the lines. The Blue Devils (5-5 overall) have not won a title since 1994.
“To be mentioned with Perrysburg and Southview is the ultimate goal,” Guiccardo said. “We know those two will be good again. We hope to be still alive in Week 7 and 8 and have the chance at the end of the year. [To win a title] would be unbelievable.
“Football is back here. There is excitement.”
Seymour completed 106 of 235 passes for 1,691 and 10 touchdowns. Seymour also rushed for 359 yards on 72 carries (5.0).
Senior tailback Aren Harris rushed for 332 yards on 36 carries (9.2 per carry) and six TDs. Senior wideout Tevin Stuart caught 23 passes for 330 yards (14.3 yards per catch).
The lone change in the NLL is at Northview, where longtime college assistant coach Doug Downing embarks on his first high school job with the Wildcats (2-8). Downing said his team’s strengths include his offensive line, running backs, special teams, defensive line, and secondary.
Maumee (2-8) and Bowling Green (3-7) will both look to improve under second-year coaches.