Bryan football coach Kevin Kline understands what the Golden Bears are up against this season.
The defending Northwest Ohio Athletic League champions can expect to face a gauntlet of challenges from league opponents.
"To say it's going to be a walkaway, I have to laugh at that," said Kline, whose team was chosen by the NWOAL coaches as the preseason favorite. "This is a competitive league."
It certainly shaped up that way a year ago when Bryan finally broke through to claim the league championship by finishing 8-0 in league play. It was the first for the school since 1986.
READ MORE: 2013 High School Football Preview
Receiving eight of nine first-place votes in a preseason poll, Bryan is expected to repeat. Patrick Henry is predicted to finish second, followed by Liberty Center, Archbold, Wauseon, Evergreen, Delta and Swanton (tie for seventh) and Montpelier, respectively.
"I think you'll see from top to bottom this will be a really good league," Kline said.
They were able to hold off Patrick Henry, Liberty Center, and Archbold last fall and have plenty of familiar faces in place to make it two years in a row.
Crafty quarterback Austin Schimmoeller returns for his senior season and makes the Golden Bears offense quite lethal with his dual threat capabilities as a passer and runner. He has plenty of help on offense to make Bryan more than a one-man showcase.
"I think Liberty Center, Patrick Henry and Bryan will end up in a three-way tie," Swanton coach Phil Witker said. "Those teams are solid. They're great teams with great players."
Patrick Henry coach Bill Inselmann has a couple of standout players — running back Tobey Hernandez and lineman Colt Pettit — to guide the way toward contending for the league's top prize.
Longtime Liberty Center coach Rex Lingruen is also working with an experienced team that will make a push for the championship. Seniors Nick Demaline and Anthony Righi are top-flight talents who should help lead the Tigers.
Archbold, with as many returning letter winers as any team in the league, could end up surprising the others. Returning quarterback Evan Wyse, a 2,000-yard passer last year and nearly a 1,000-yard rusher, makes the Blue Streaks a contender with his leadership.
"I feel good to have him back," Archbold coach Bryan Miller said.
Evergreen was competitive a year ago and figures to be a tough test for most in the league even with a fourth coach in four seasons as Paul Amstutz takes over.
Delta is hoping the return of coach Mike Vicars brings a more tough-nosed playing style as the Panthers look to be more competitive this year.
Swanton also figures to be a more competitive team based upon the large turnout that showed up for two-a-day training.
Montpelier is also looking to be improved and more challenging under second-year coach Steven Brancheau than during his first season driving the Locomotives.
But when it's all said and done, the group that finished bunched up at the top of the league figures to be right back in the mix for the league title once again.
"I think Bryan has the best team, but I could see Patrick Henry of Liberty Center being the teams to beat them," Miller said.
Contact Donald Emmons at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6302 or on Twitter @DemmonsBlade