Coming off the finest football season in the history of Findlay High School, Cliff Hite is eager for the kickoff of the 2003 season.
The Trojans basked long enough in the glory of advancing to the Division I state semifinals last season. They went 12-2 overall and 5-0 in the Great Lakes League's final season.
Now it is time for the Trojans to go out and create more history, according to Hite. Resting on laurels of the past isn't something being preached to the Trojans as they embark on a new season in a new league.
Findlay joins former GLL members Sandusky and Fremont Ross, along with Napoleon, Lima Senior and Marion Harding in establishing the Greater Buckeye Conference.
Hite considers the move to the GBC a positive step. He considers it an opportunity to rekindle old rivalries while establishing new relationships with other well-established programs.
“This league is not new to us,” Hite said. “We played Lima Senior last year and Marion has been an opponent of ours on and off for years.
“It's not going to be an uncomfortable situation for us. It's exciting and is going to be really competitive.”
Findlay's run last season ended with a 34-31 loss to Cincinnati Elder in a DivisionI state semifinal. Hite has only seven starters back, but that hasn't lowered his expectations.
“I guess what you do is try to talk to the young kids and tell them not to worry about rebuilding and reloading and just talk about repeating,” Hite said. “I think we have enough skill people on offense and we can still cause a lot of problems on offense if we do it right.”
A look at the GBC teams in The Blade's circulation area:
Coach: Cliff Hite, eighth season
Last season: 12-2, 5-0 GLL
Top players: Seniors Mike Leddy, 5-10, 165, FS; Craig Truax, 6-5, 250, OL; Shawn Mitter, 6-3, 230, OL; Johnny Paris, 5-9, 270, OL
Finding someone to replace three-year starter Kyle Johann at quarterback is high on the priority list, but the Trojans must also fill holes in other areas of the offense and defense. How well the likes of Leddy, Truax and Paris take on more of the leadership responsibilities this season will factor into Findlay's progress.
Coach: John Snoad, eighth season
Last season: 9-2 (independent)
Top players: Seniors Blake Boulton, 6-1, 195, RB/S; Ryan Funchion, 5-10, 165, QB; Stacey Shank, 5-10, 220, C; Scott Durham, 6-3, 220, TE/DE; juniors Zak Kruse, 5-10, 160, RB/S; Justin Westhoven, 5-9, 195, OL
Outlook: After several years of playing as an independent, the Wildcats look forward to playing for a league title. Coming off a solid 2002 campaign, the Wildcats have their eyes on being an instant hit in the GBC.
Snoad has plenty to work with as the Wildcats attempt to contend in the GBC against schools with noticeably larger enrollments.
Snoad says the bottom line is about showing up to play on Friday nights.
“We're excited to be back in a league right now,” Snoad said. “We've always been very, very competitive with schools our size or larger because we've always had to be able to do that.”
Boulton, Funchion and Shank are among a half-dozen two-year letter-winners. Underclassmen like Kruse and Westhoven should help the Wildcats as they attempt to make a run at winning that first GBC championship.
Coach: Chuck Lindsey, second season
Last season: 0-10, 0-5 GLL
Top players: Seniors Julius Simms, 6-1, 220, FB/LB; Jared Dickman, 5-10, 195, RB; Zach Sipperley, 5-10, 300, OT; juniors Justin Garcia, 5-10, 160, S; Fred Shearon, 6-3, 210, DE; sophomores Robbie Hall, 5-10, 165, WR; Jordan Edwards, 5-8, 160, CB
Outlook: The Little Giants can't help but believe their situation will not remain the same as the last two years when they finished with losing records.
Lindsey, a longtime baseball coach at Ross, heads into his second year in charge of the football program preaching tradition. He believes things will eventually turn around for Ross.
Thirteen returning starters, including eight on defense, make Ross a much more experienced team than a season ago.
“We want to bring the pride back in Fremont Ross football,” Lindsey said.
Coach: Jim Bollenbacher, first season
Last season: 4-6, 2-3 GLL
Top players: Seniors Trevor Dehn, 6-2, 193, QB/DB; Brandon Matthews, 6-1, 212, FB/DE; Josh Milner, 6-1, 215, OL/LB; Deron Pickens, 5-10, 182, FB/DB; Chris Pollard, 5-9, 188, FB/LB; Vince Randleman, 5-10, 168, SE/DB
Outlook: A new era begins this season for the Blue Streaks football program. It's not only the first season for Sandusky to play in the GBC, it's also Bollenbacher's first season in charge.
“We're very excited,” Bollenbacher said. “Like anyone else we've got things we can fix, but we've got a lot of positives. Our big thing is let's improve every day and we'll see where it takes us.”
Even though it's his first year overseeing the Blue Streaks, Bollenbacher is quite familiar with the team and most of the GBC opponents. Bollenbacher's resume includes spending a year as head coach at Fremont Ross and 15 years as an assistant coach at Sandusky.
Dehn and Pickens start the season as two of the top players in the new conference.