Area coaches are anticipating much of the same this season with a lot of repeat champions and good football on the fields of northwest Ohio.
Perennial powers like Hardin Northern and Mohawk are again expected to kick off championship campaigns when the regular season starts tomorrow night.
wHuron was the unanimous pick by the coaches and media to win its third straight Sandusky Bay Conference title. Oak Harbor and Margaretta, who have both shared league titles with the Tigers the past two years, should contend again. Sandusky Perkins also could make a run.
“I think there will be a lot of close ball games,” said Margaretta coach Don Wilson. “It's going to be a very interesting year.”
Huron coach Tony Legando said he believes his program's tradition and his spread offense were the reasons his team was picked first in the preseason polls.
“We have two back on offense and two back on defense so I was a little surprised [about the polls],” Legando said. “It's a compliment to our program.”
The Tigers have a perennially potent West Coast-style offense that has recently produced nine all-Ohio quarterbacks.
Legando said speedy option quarterback Steve West should be his next all-stater. The 5-7, 150-pounder threw for 1,610 yards with 15 touchdowns and only four interceptions as a junior.
Oak Harbor coach Gary Quisno hopes to lead his team to its seventh appearance in the playoffs in the last 10 years. The Rockets return three on offense and five on defense from a team that was co-champion in the SBC.
Senior Joe Levy (6-1, 230) comes back after earning all-league honors at guard and defensive end. Seniors Bryan Gerber and Eric Dusseau will anchor both the offensive and defensive backfields.
“We're sound in most areas,” said Quisno who enters his 25th season at the helm. “Our offensive and defensive lines are solid and we have a good set of backs. Our kicking game should be solid, too.”
Margaretta is pinning its hopes to improve upon a 10-3 record and an appearance in the regional final on its huge lines. Senior guards Sky Meike (6-0, 230) and Alex Smith (6-0, 235) are expected to provide plenty of holes for junior running back Logan Moore.
Junior Jeff Linckenbach (6-6, 310) and Gerrod Smith (6-3, 260) provide even more bulk in the trenches.
Sandusky Perkins coach Rock Farlow expects to contend for the title with size, speed and an experienced backfield. Seniors Tyson Gentry (split end), Aaron Richardson (tailback) and Dennis Bird (quarterback) lead 15 returning letter-winners.
wAccording to the coaches in the Midland Athletic League, the top four teams are Mohawk, Carey, Hopewell-Loudon and Tiffin Calvert and they will likely finish in that order.
“I think the four of us have separated ourselves from the rest of the league,” said Hopewell-Loudon coach Derek Kidwell.
Mohawk has the most returning starters and appears to be in good shape to three-peat in the MAL.
Nine are back on offense and seven return on the defense. Senior quarterback Jason Engel and senior running back Kyle Jacoby have bulked up, according to third-year coach Erik Baker.
Engel (5-10, 170), who also is a defensive back, was the second-ranked passer in the league as a junior. Jacoby (6-0, 200) will also play inside linebacker. Fellow senior Travis Danner is a three-year starter.
Baker said the name to watch on his team is Grant Rettig. The senior fullback/wideout is perhaps the fastest player in the region, Baker said.
Jim Draper, who has coached Carey for 18 years, has eight starters back on both offense and defense. The Blue Devils went 6-4 last year after consecutive 9-1 seasons.
Four seniors lead the returnees: David Schlack (OG/OLB), Derek Stoll (RB/ILB), Alex Keister (FB/ILB), and Jeff Gery (G/DE). Senior Gary Risner is a newcomer at quarterback.
“We're a wishbone, option team and we have three good running backs,” Draper said. “Our running attack should be our strength.”
Hopewell-Loudon is loaded with experience. The Chieftains have 20 letter-winners and 14 starters back from a team that went 8-3 and finished second in the MAL.
Quarterback Jason Bodard (5-10, 180) is a four-year starter and threw for more than 1,600 yards as a junior.
Tiffin Calvert, which has won or shared four out of the last five MAL titles including last year, has 12 letter-winners back with four starters returning on offense and three on defense.
Senior defensive tackle Bart Borer (6-0, 265) earned second team all-state honors last year.
wOttawa-Glandorf and Defiance should play their usual large roles in determining who will win the Western Buckeye League this year. O-G was a co-champ last year and Defiance was third.
Ottawa-Glandorf's 2002 team won the first league title in school history and made just its third appearance in the playoffs.
However, Ken Schriner's Titans have just four starters returning from a team that went 9-2.
“We lost a tremendous amount of talent,” Schriner said.
But senior linebacker/guard Ben Hermiller (6-2, 215) is back after earning first team All-Western Buckeye League honors. Seniors Derek Patrick (DB/RB, 5-10, 190) and Dana Fought (WR 6-1, 175) also return.
Defiance coach Jerry Buti said his 2002 Bulldogs should have finished more like 8-2 than 5-5. And 20 letter-winners and seven starters are out to prove that last season was a fluke. Defiance has won three WBL titles in the last eight years. Four are back on offense and three return on defense.
Quarterback Austin Keel, a three-year starter, is a double threat. The 6-2, 185-pounder is a good runner in the Bulldogs' option attack.
At 5-11, 340 pounds, nose guard Dan Orta is huge, but he can move, Buti said. Several Mid-American Conference schools, including Bowling Green and Kent State, are recruiting Orta. He earned special mention all-state and was the defensive lineman of the year in the Western Buckeye League.
“He's very strong and quick. He can bench 440 pounds,” Buti said.
Defending the pass and getting the running game going are potential problem areas for Defiance.
wTiffin Columbian should immediately be challenged by newcomer and rival Fostoria in the Northern Ohio League. But Bellevue and Upper Sandusky should also have a say in the matter.
Columbian coach Steve Gilbert lost his entire offensive line and receivers but returns all-district quarterback Weston Reinbolt.
“We've got good kids back that we can build around,” said Gilbert, who is in his 11th season at TC. “It's a matter of maturing quickly up front. The best thing is that we're better at the skill positions.”
Reinbolt (5-10, 190) threw for close to 900 yards and rushed for over 600 last season. Senior running back Tim Spencer (5-10, 190) was named second-team All-Ohio after rushing for more than 1,000 yards and scoring 27 touchdowns.
Fostoria - the Tornadoes' chief rival - should also be its primary threat for the league crown.
Seventh-year coach Tom Grine has 41 varsity players, including 13 seniors and six letter-winners.
Seniors Joe Morton (OL/DL), Alex Shiff (TB/SS) and Jake Reinhart (FB/DB) are the top returning players. Morton and Shiff earned All-Great Lakes League honors last year.
Grine said his team's strengths are good overall speed and athleticism, good size up front and a close-knit group of seven leaders.
Possible trouble areas include inexperience and a lack of depth at some positions. The Redmen also have only five returning starters as they venture into the NOL.
Bellevue looks to rebound from an unusually disappointing 6-4 season and 12 starters are back for 13th-year coach Ed Nasonti. The Redmen have won the NOL title nine out of the last 12 years.
Senior Matt Lepley leads the offense at tailback and wide receiver after earning first team All-Ohio honors in 2002.
wAfter winning seven out of the last eight Blanchard Valley Conference titles, Hardin Northern is the favorite to continue that trend. However Cory-Rawson is a leading contender. After that the conference is wide open with McComb, Arlington and Liberty-Benton considered the top threats.
“The conference is tougher than it has ever been,” said McComb coach Kris Alge. “I have to say that even a team with two losses may win the conference.”
Hardin Northern will be hard-pressed to have a better season than it had last year. The Polar Bears lost just one game - to Mogadore in the Division VI state championship game.
Back from the 2002 Polar Bear team (14-1, 9-0) are 14 returning letter-winners - seven on each side of the ball.
It was a down year for McComb (7-4) last season after back-to-back 12-1 seasons.
“We should be better than last year,” said Alge. “We have good senior leadership and nice junior athletes.”
Three senior returning linemen bolster the lines for junior running back Nick Harden. The 6-0, 215-pounder is strong and quick.
wAfter nearly 30 years of not ever winning a league title, Tinora is a favorite to win its second Green Meadows Conference title in as many years. Fairview should be a close second followed by Ayersville, Edgerton and Hicksville.
In 2002, Tinora went 11-1, reached the second round of the DivisionV playoffs for the first time and won the first league title in school history going back to 1973.
And that success should continue this season as 11 seniors and all the skill players return.
Tinora has 60 players out for the team and is the only program in the league that has a freshmen team.
Quarterback Kevin McCann (6-1, 200) comes back for his third year after rushing for 1,180 rushing yards and throwing for 800 as a junior.
Linebacker Eric Weber (6-2, 215) was second team All-Ohio a year ago. Matt Frey (DE/TE , 6-0, 215) made all-district last year.
Fairview has 52 total players out for the team, which is the most ninth-year coach Bob Olwin has ever had out. The Apaches have gone 64-19 over the last eight years and have won the league title five times over that span.
Ayersville looks to contend with senior quarterback Dimetrius Jones and sophomore kicker Sergio Manriquez returning.