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For the past six years, the Patrick Henry football team has made it look easy.
Win a title. Lose some key players, but find replacements. Win another title. Repeat as necessary.
This year the Patriots will look to claim a seventh consecutive Northwest Ohio Athletic League crown, but coach Bill Inselmann knows it isn t as easy as it has seemed.
If seems that, during this run [of titles], when we lose our line we have experienced skill-position players, and when we lose our skill players we have line experience, Inselmann said. This year we have good linemen back on offense and defense guys who are athletic and very experienced.
Coaches around the league think the Patriots will claim that seventh straight title as Patrick Henry was picked to win the NWOAL in a preseason poll. Liberty Center was ranked second, while Archbold and Bryan also received strong consideration for the top spot.
Inselmann, now in his 18th year at PH, said part of the reason his team was picked first was the team s recent string of championships.
Winning is contagious, he said. Our younger kids have seen the kids in the classes above them winning, and they ve seen how hard those kids worked to improve.
With success comes confidence, and that s what you want your kids to have.
But there certainly are questions surrounding the Patriots, as the losses from last season include all-league players at quarterback, halfback, fullback and wide receiver.
At our skill positions we have some new names, Inselmann said. They re not great athletes, but they re good athletes. And they re very coachable, and they have a good mental attitude they expect to win when they take the field.
Inselmann added that he s concerned not only about the teams expected to challenge him, but also by the team at the bottom of the league, which seem to be improving.
I think the middle and bottom of the league is more competitive than it has been in years past, Inselmann said. A lot of teams have a number of kids back Bryan has a lot of kids back, Evergreen has a lot back.
And I think Wauseon is going to surprise people as the season goes on. They have a sophomore class that is very athletically mature, and even though sophomores usually have to take their lumps in our league, I m not sure Wauseon is going to.
Here s a look at the teams in predicted order of finish:
Coach: Bill Inselmann, 18th year
Last season: 11-2, 7-1 NWOAL
Last 10 years: 94-23, 65-15 NWOAL
Returning letter winners: 17
Returning starters: 5 offense/5 defense
Schemes: West coast/5-2
Top players: Seniors Mike Gobrogge, 5-9, 209, OC/DT; Joe Huber, 5-11, 213, OT/DT; Mitch Leonard, 5-11, 153, WR/DB; Cody Pettit, 6-3, 240, OG/DT. Juniors Aaron George, 5-11, 186, WR/DE; Luke George, 5-10, 171, QB/DB.
Outlook: The Patriots must replace a senior class that included nine starters, and the holes include quarterback, halfback, fullback and a wide receiver spot on offense.
Luke George, whose brother Zack led PH to a state title in 2005, will take over at QB. The top options at halfback include Justin Buenger and Nick Powers, while Bill Miller and Josh Almanza will share time at fullback. Mitch Leonard, who caught 29 passes for 428 yards a year ago, will be the top option at receiver.
But the team s strength should be its offense line, where Central Michigan recruit Cody Pettit and four-year starter Mike Gobrogge lead the way.
Gobrogge started at tackle on our state championship team and is a three-year starter at center who is an anchor, Inselmann said. Cody Pettit is a good lineman who also is a leader, and Joe Huber is a very athletic lineman.
The top returnees on defense include Buenger, who had 71 tackles; Aaron George, whose 67 stops include 14 tackles for loss; and Pettit, who made 52 tackles a year ago.
Coach: Rex Lingruen, 24th year
Last season: 7-4, 5-3
Last 10 years: 93-27, 64-16
Returning letter winners: 13
Returning starters: 7 offense/7 defense
Top players: Seniors Patrick Brown, 6-1, 170, QB; Damian Maes, 5-9, 165, WB/DB; Andrew Schwab, 5-10, 240, OT/DT; Brandon Stacey, 6-1, 185, C/NG. Juniors Jake Elling, 5-8, 185, FB/DB; Alan Sharp, 6-0, 205, G/LB.
Outlook: Don t think for a moment that the Tigers have forgotten the finish to last season, which saw them lose their final two league contests before getting drubbed by Patrick Henry in the first round of the playoffs.
We were embarrassed with our last three games, Lingruen admitted.
Instead expect LC to use last year s poor finish as motivation as the Tigers return seven starters on both sides of the ball. The offense will remain in the hands of Brown, who threw for 868 yards and seven TDs last season, with Maes and Elling running behind a solid line anchored by Schwab, Sharp and Stacey.
The defense will be led by Brandon Neff at defensive tackle, Sharp at linebacker and Maes in the backfield.
Coach: John Downey, 29th year
Last season: 7-4, 6-2
Last 10 years: 54-49, 42-38
Returning letter winners: 17
Returning starters: 4 offense/6 defense
Top players: Seniors Ryan Christman, 5-8, 215, OL; David Dominique, 5-10, 190, RB/LB; Jake Fidler, 5-10, 190, WR/DB; Jared Leininger, 6-0, 170, WR/LB; Trevor Meyer, 5-8, 160, DL/OL; Breon Price, 5-8, 162, WR/DB; Chad Rufenacht, 5-9, 160, DL/OL; David Rupp, 6-2, 185, QB/S; Kyle Stipp, 5-10, 240, DL/OL.
Outlook: The Blue Streaks suffered a big loss with the graduation of last year s 20 seniors, a group that included QB Gene Goering (2,917 yards passing, 643 rushing) and top receiver Jimmy Dunning (67 catches, 971 yards).
Eight of the team s top ten tacklers return, including defensive stalwarts Dominique (87 tackles), Meyer (72 tackles) and Rupp (78 tackles). The defense will need to hold the line as the offense develops.
Rupp is expected to replace Goering at quarterback, and Rupp will have a fine target available with Fidler (49 catches, 854 yards). Rupp also will rely on a stout offensive line, while Fidler and Dominique are candidates to see extensive action at tailback.
We have excellent team speed, and that will give us the capability to make big plays, Downey said. I think we need to develop some depth, especially at quarterback, and we must improve on our toughness in the second half.
Coach: Travis Cooper, first year
Last season: 4-6, 3-5
Last 10 years: 37-63, 33-37
Returning letter winners: 10
Returning starters: 5 offense/4 defense
Schemes: Run and boot/multiple 40/50
Top players: Seniors Shayne Combs, 5-8, 150, WR/DB; Cody Costanzo, 5-8, 175, RB/DB; Jeremy Hageman, 5-9, 195, OL/DL; Zach Snider, 6-0, 200, OG/LB. Juniors Caleb Armbruster, 6-4, 200, QB; Levi Fisher, 6-0, 180, RB/LB; Alex Nossaman, 6-3, 200, WR/DB; Michael Pierce, 6-1, 250, OT.
Outlook: The Golden Bears lost several key performers, including All-Ohio wideout Andy Park, and have only nine seniors on the roster.
But Cooper, in his first year as head coach, said this year s seniors are providing leadership to a large roster that includes a talented junior class. The juniors are led by Armbruster, who threw for 1,537 yards last season while running for 876 more.
But Cooper said the key will be getting his team to believe it can become winners.
We seem to be fine when things are going right, but when we get down, we seem to go into the tank, Cooper said. This year we want to keep this team from reverting to those old habits.
Coach: Mark Emans, 19th year
Last season: 7-3, 7-1
Last 10 years: 52-49, 46-34
Returning letter winners: 12
Returning starters: 1 offense/1 defense
Schemes: Wing-T/50 shade
Top players: Seniors Colin Hughes, 6-0, 185, RB/LB; Corey Norris, 6-1, 235, OT; Mike Thompson, 5-10, 171, SE/DB. Juniors Jeff Jasso, 5-10, 201, RB/LB; Dwayne Wilson, 5-11, 192, RB/NT. Sophomore Landon Schaffner, 5-10, 174, QB.
Outlook: Last year s league co-champs were virtually wiped out on both sides of the ball. The only returning starter is Hughes, who ran for 1,110 yards and 20 touchdowns on offense while spearheading the defense at linebacker.
We re afraid of going from hero to zero and our kids don t want that to happen, Emans said. They ve worked hard to make sure it doesn t happen.
The Indians will rely on a 12-man senior class, as well as a deep and talented sophomore class, to push for a spot among the league s top teams.
We have good numbers in our program, and we have good talent at the skill positions. We just lack experience; we don t have a lot of Friday night experience.
Coach: Todd Thieken, fourth year
Last season: 2-8, 1-7
Last 10 years: 46-54, 32-48
Returning letter winners: 18
Returning starters: 9 offense/8 defense
Schemes: Run and boot/4-3
Top players: Seniors Josh Burroughs, 6-3, 235, OL/DL; Steve Creque, 5-11, 195, FB/NG; Brad Loeffler, 6-1, 225, OL/LB; Jordan McCready, 6-1, 185, RB/DB; Ryan Reichler, 6-1, 210, FB/LB. Junior Chad Mossing, 6-3, 185, QB. Sophomores Eric Boger, 6-4, 215, TE/DE; Lucas Pennington, 6-4, 205, WR/DB.
Outlook: The Vikings took their lumps last fall in hopes that the return of numerous starters on both sides of the ball would pay off this season.
The talent is spread evenly on both sides of the ball, with the offense in the hands of Mossing, who ran for 507 yards, and McCready, who added 428. Pennington caught 15 passes for 232 yards as a freshman and give the ground-oriented attack some diversity.
On defense the unit is led by linebackers Loeffler, the team s top returning tackler with 75 stops, Reichler and Garrett May. McCready had 66 stops at the safety position, while Burroughs had 10 tackles for loss from his defensive end spot.
Coach: Brett Smith, first year
Last season: 6-4, 5-3
Last 10 years: 68-43, 49-31
Returning letter winners: 6
Returning starters: 3 offense/3 defense
Top players: Seniors Corey Abrigo, 6-0, 240, OT/DT; Sammy Arredondo, 6-0, 215, TE/DE; Korbin Smith, 6-3, 180, WR/DB; Jacob Yant, 5-11, 210, OT/LB.
Outlook: For the third time in as many seasons the Panthers will have a new coach as Brett Smith takes over. He said his first order of business has been to assess the talent on the roster to best utilize it.
Right now we re in the process of learning about our kids and hoping to be successful, Smith said. We re focused on teaching our kids the tempo we want to have, and seeing who wants to compete and be physical.
Smith doesn t have many experienced players back, but he does have a few building blocks from a 15-member senior class. The leaders of that group include Korbin Smith, who also is one of the league s better kickers.
Coach: Ben Ohlemacher, second year
Last season: 2-8, 0-8
Last 10 years: 20-80, 13-67
Returning letter winners: 10
Returning starters: 6 offense/5 defense
Top players: Seniors Brent Lumbrezer, 5-11, 220, OL/DL; Tim Van Newhouse, 5-8, 160, RB/DB. Juniors Cole Doren, 5-8, 190, OL/LB; Louis Miller, 5-8, 140, WR/DB; Alec Maier, 6-1, 170, QB. Sophomore Tom Leahey, 5-7, 160, RB/LB.
Outlook: Last season the Bulldogs opened and closed the season with victories, but this year they will look to take another step forward and break a four-year winless streak in the league.
That won t be easy, though, as just 10 letter winners are back from last season. Ohlemacher is encouraged by a roster that includes 41 players, but 17 of those players are freshmen.
Van Newhouse will be asked to carry much of the load, and eventually the freshmen may see varsity action this fall.
Right now, the most encouraging thing I ve seen is that the players on our roster have embraced being hard-nosed and disciplined, Ohlemacher said.
Coach: Joe Brigle, eighth year
Last season: 3-7, 2-6
Last 10 years: 29-71, 17-63
Returning letter winners: 17
Returning starters: 5 offense/6 defense
Top players: Seniors Kyle Castillo, 6-0, 180, SS; Chase Howard, 6-0, 240, OT; Jake keller, 5-11, 165, CB; Ryan Miser, 6-2, 190, SE; Andrew Yagelski, 5-11, 170, CB; Devon Zuver, 6-0, 160, FS. Juniors Jarret Beck, 6-0, 175, TB/LB; Kyle McCarty, 6-0, 180, FB/LB; Matt Wells, 6-2, 220, C.
Outlook: The Locomotives lost talented quarterback Max Lamberson, who threw for 1,189 yards, to graduation as well as receiver Brit Moore, who caught 33 passes for 567 yards, and tailback Brant Mercer, who ran for 596 yards and 11 TDs.
Early on the Locos will lean heavily on a defense led by Castillo, who made 66 tackles last season, and fellow defensive backs Keller, Yagelski and Zuver.
We ve got 10 seniors on the roster, and they are a good class, Brigle said. They are hard-working kids, and I like how they encourage our younger players.