Northview meeting crosstown rival Southview in the final game of the regular season has also been a constant. Maumee closing out the regular season against rival Perrysburg in Week 10 has also been a staple on the NLL schedule that Panthers' and Yellow Jackets' followers annually marked on their calendars.
Another competitive race to determine the NLL champion is expected in 2003, with Southview, Perrysburg, Anthony Wayne and Springfield heading the league's favorites list.
The idea of a rotating schedule got a mixed reaction from league coaches, who didn't have a chance to vote on the matter. The four head coaches from the NLL's two most prominent rivalry matchups are not pleased about the switch, which has the Northview-Southview and Maumee-Perrysburg games taking place during week 8 instead of Week 10.
“We don't like it,” Northview coach Eric Keller said. “The issue was raised that the rotating schedule was more favorable to all. But there was a natural fit for us and Southview to play against each other in the last game of the season and the same goes for Perrysburg and Maumee.”
Maumee coach John Boles doesn't like it either: “I think it's really special to allow rivals to play against each other in Week 10.”
Maumee, coming off a 2002 season in which it earned a postseason berth, could replace Rossford as the league champion. The Panthers have several key players returning.
But Boles admits the earlier-than-usual meeting with Perrysburg could have a significant effect. Playing Perrysburg in Week 8 will require him to adjust how he approaches that game - and also the games before and after the contest with the Yellow Jackets.
Boles said the Perrysburg game has always resulted in the most spirited and emotional week of the season. The rotating schedule will require more work to keep the Panthers' emotions in check. Boles said approaching the game as if it's the last game of the season might not be the best approach when there are games still left on the schedule.
“It's always going to be a big game,” Boles said. “We'll try to treat it like anything else during the season where you try to keep a balance [emotionally], not too high and not too low.”
Ninth-year Southview coach Jim Mayzes has always considered the end-of-the-season meeting with Northview special. Mayzes never had to tell his players what was at stake when the two teams met.
With several starters back from last season's 5-5 team, including quarterback Kelley Rowe, Southview is a legitimate contender to win the NLL title. No team has more talent than the Cougars within the NLL.
In a season when Southview appears ready to make a serious push at capturing league bragging rights, a season-finale against Northview only seems natural for Mayzes.
“There's not much I can do about it, so I guess I have to like it,” Mayzes said of the rotating schedule. “But it's always nice to have that game [against Northview] played at the end of the year.”
But while about half the NLL coaches oppose a rotating schedule, the other half seems to welcome the change. Anthony Wayne, Springfield, Rossford and Bowling Green don't have one particular league opponent it considers as its main rival.
Anthony Wayne coach Craig Smith says all seven of his league opponents are rivals. The Generals, coming off a .500 overall regular season in 2002, take pride in defeating all of their NLL foes.
The rotating schedule suits Smith just fine even though he understands the opposition to change from the former NLL schedule by the coaches at Northview, Southview, Perrysburg and Maumee.
“We don't really have a natural rivalry,” Smith said. “For us, it really doesn't matter to us. For them [Northview, Southview, Perrysburg, Maumee], it does.”
Jeff Cullen has been coaching in the NLL for two decades and is as familiar to the rivalries in the league as anyone. However, Cullen, who enters his first season as Bolwing Green's head coach, advocates the rotating schedule.
Cullen thinks the old schedule actually benefited the schools with the natural rivalries because those schools always were allowed to experience their most emotional game of the year during the final week of the season.
“I like the rotating schedule because there are only four schools that have big rivalries,” Cullen said. “The other four schools are not the same.
“I think the rotating schedule is good for us. I think there is probably a different way to do it to make everyone happy but nobody has sat down and wrote it down yet.”
Here is a look at the NLL in predicted order of finish:
Coach: Jim Mayzes, ninth season
Last season: 5-5, 3-4 NLL
Top players: Seniors Mike Norris, 6-0, 175, WR/CB; Kelley Rowe, 5-10, 180, QB/CB; Bubba Valdez, 6-0, 230, LB/OL; Aaron Waldie, 5-10, 155, WR; Josh Wirrick, 6-3, 250, DE/OT; David Zaenger, 5-10, 155, CB; juniors Mike Campbell, 5-9, 155, CB; Malcolm Campbell, 5-9, 155, CB
Outlook: The Cougars made strides a year ago after failing to win a single game in 2001. Title talk has returned to south Sylvania.
Eight returning starters are in place on both sides of the football. The Cougars could do what the Rossford Bulldogs pulled off a season ago.
There's enough speed and skill on the roster to put the Cougars at the top of the NLL. Mayzes might have the most experience and talent to work with since Southview marched their way to the state final in 1999.
Rowe is the the triggerman in an offensive game plan that relies on the quarterback to do as much damage with his feet as with his arm. Norris and Waldie should help make Rowe's job .
Coach: Craig Smith, seventh season
Last season: 5-5, 4-3
Top players: Seniors Jordan Pringle, 6-3, 260, OL/DL; Brandon Cramer, 6-1, 180, WR/DB; Jason Sadowski, 6-1, 175, QB/K; Matt Persinger, 5-8, 155, WR; Jordan Ulrich, 6-1, 205, OL; Seth Holan, 6-0, 170, CB
Outlook: The Generals look to rebound from a disappointing season in which they didn't meet expectations. AW has enough talent to top last season's overall record. The roster includes several starters back to make AW again a favorite in the NLL.
Pringle, Cramer and Sadowski are at the forefront of a core group that makes the Generals a concern for NLL opponents. But how well the underclassmen contribute could ultimately decide where the Generals wind up in the NLL race.
“We have a chance to play for a league championship,” Smith said. “I thought we had a nice team last year considering the fact that we were young.”
With nearly 20 returning letter-winners on the roster, the Generals are one of the NLL's most experienced teams. This group won't be lacking for confidence when they step on the field.
“I think they believe in themselves and have worked really hard in the offseason,” Smith said. “When you have 16 or 17 returning lettermen you hope to have a good season.”
Coach: John Boles, sixth season
Last season: 8-3, 5-2
Top players: Seniors Drew Parry, 6-2, 295, OL; Ryan Machoukas, 6-1, 265, OL; Jeremy Carpenter, 6-3, 210, OL; Cody Jacobs, 5-9, 210, OL; Brandon Tushek, 6-0, 210, OL
Outlook: The Panthers are always finding ways to contend in the NLL. This season should be no different.
Boles expects to challenge for the championship again.
“We've got some good kids, and I'm confident the kids will fill those positions and do a nice job,” Boles said. “I believe we'll be able to contend.”
The Panthers, who participated in the playoffs last season, lost several key players to graduation. But the cupboard isn't bare.
The Panthers' strength resides in the trenches. Parry, Manachoukas, Carpenter and others have the size and skill to make up perhaps the NLL's best collection of linemen.
A fast start in league play could go a long way for the Panthers, who return a total of 10 starters, including six on defense.
Coach: Phil DeMars, fifth season
Last season: 5-5, 4-3
Top players: Seniors Nick Johnson, 6-2, 260, OL/DL; Craig Mossing, 6-0, 175, WR; Mike Bekier, 5-10, 200, OL; Rick Gonzales, 5-10, 185; Taylor Taube, 5-10, 190, RB/DB; Steve Harvey, 5-11, 170, DB
Outlook: It's been a while since the Blue Devils have been mentioned among the league's elite. Quality talent on this year's roster places Springfield among the teams considered early favorites.
The Blue Devils are coming off a .500 season with many of the same faces from that team still on the field. And they're bigger, stronger and faster. Mossing, Johnson, Bekier and Harvey lead the group loaded with potential.
Gaining confidence early with wins against non-league opponents could go a long way.
“As far as depth, we'll be really shallow in that area,” DeMars said. “It's always a game of injuries, but it will be key for us considering the inexperience of our backups this year.”
Coach: Chris Werbylo, first season
Last season: 8-3, 6-1
Top players: Seniors Josh Heidelbrink, 6-0, 185, QB; Teddy Ogdahl, 5-9, 180, WR; Ryan Gold, 5-11, 215, OL; Kenny Spohn, 6-0, 230, DL/OL; Aaron Kurth, 5-11, 170, Eric Soltis, 5-10, 175, P/K; juniors Mark Vuich, 6-2, 220, OL; Kevin Wagner, 5-8, 170, SS; Ted George, 5-11, 190, DL
Outlook: Most of the main names that helped choreograph one of the best seasons in team history have moved on. Darren Paige, The Blade's 2002 player of the year, is gone.
So is longtime coach Tom Ferguson, who retired.
Werbylo, a longtime assistant to Ferguson, knows the situation but is determined to keep the Bulldogs in the thick of title contention.
“I think we can be competitive with everybody,” Werbylo said. “That's all I can hope for. Hopefully, the ball bounces our way more than it does for our opponents.”
Paige, Kyle Ingraham and Justin Gladieux played integral roles in the Bulldogs' championship season. Heidelbrink, Ogdahl and Soltis are among those who must take up the slack this fall.
Coach: Eric Keller, eighth season
Last season: 5-5, 3-4
Top players: Seniors Tyler Banachowski, 5-11, 165, QB/DB; Bryan Heidtman, 5-11, 170, DB/WR; Charley Hobbs, 5-10, 175, LB/RB; Mike Horst, 6-3, 200, DL/OL; Kirk McKenney, 6-2, 180, WR/S
Outlook: The Wildcats' fate in the NLL race could come down to the progress of an underclassmen crop totaling around 60.
The Wildcats' youth movement has Keller hoping hunger to succeed comes along with the youngest roster in the league. Half of the underclassmen are sophomores. Practically every position on offense and defense will be filled with a first-year starter.
“We lost a lot on the defensive front and offensive line,” Keller said. “We have some holes to fill.”
The strength of the Wildcats team probably is the secondary. Banachowski, Heidtman and McKenney are returning letter-winners who should provide leadership and steady play.
Coach: Roger Frank, third season
Last season: 2-8, 1-6
Top players: Seniors Chris Roster, 6-4, 220, DL; Dave Wyper, 6-5, 265, DL; Brian Monroe, 6-0, 220, DL; Andrew Marshall, 6-1, 190, LB; Josh Woods, 5-11, 215, LB; Andrew Van Velzel, 6-1, 210, OL; sophomore Drew Crabtree, 6-1, 255, DL
Outlook: The Yellow Jackets are not considered a favorite. That doesn't mean Perrysburg could become a major surprise should the talent overcome a shortage of experience.
Frank will rely on a number of players who didn't see significant playing time a year ago.
“We're going to spend more time teaching,” Frank said. “Last year we had more experience on the team and we tried to implement a lot of stuff. This year we'll teach the basics.”
Frank added: “We're going to be pretty inexperienced. We're working hard as a coaching staff. We have to just keep on teaching and teaching.”
Coach: Jeff Cullen, first season
Last season: 2-8, 2-5
Top players: Seniors Logan Miller, 6-1, 190, LB; Andrew Foster, 6-2, 200, FS; Jeff Burger, 6-1, 180, LB; Steve Culbertson, 5-9, 185, RB
Outlook: Replacing longtime coach Denny Marquette means Cullen has some rather large shoes to fill.
The coach takes over a program that has struggled recently. A dozen starters return from last season, including seven on offense. However, BG's roster includes only 11 seniors.
Cullen, a longtime assistant, remains optimistic about a group of approximately 50 underclassmen.
“We think we're going to have a lot of kids out for the team,” Cullen said. “We have some good athletes.
“Overall, team speed is a question mark.”
The production from Miller, Foster, Burger and Culbertson will be key.