The second season of football in the Three Rivers Athletic Conference promises to be an arms race.
Four of the teams picked to finish among the top five spots this year have superb, proven talent at the quarterback position, one of the best ever assemblage of signal-callers in one northwest Ohio league.
St. John's Jesuit senior third-year starter Brogan Roback has committed to play at Eastern Michigan, and Central Catholic junior second-year starter DeShone Kizer has already received offers from eight Division I college programs.
But neither quarterback received first- or second-team honors in the 2011 All-TRAC selections.
Those honors, respectively, went to Findlay's Paul Cosiano, who as a junior led the Trojans to a 9-2 finish and a D-I playoff appearance, and Fremont Ross' Tyler Wolf, a senior who enters his third season as the starting QB.
"The quarterbacks in the TRAC this year are unbelievable," said St. John's coach Doug Pearson. "If you look at Kizer's numbers and Brogan's numbers from last year, they were pretty darn good. The other two are very good in their own right.
"To have four quarterbacks in our eight-team league with those kinds of tools and that kind of talent is something we haven't seen before around here."
"These are real high-profile guys at quarterback, and that's something we haven't seen in these parts in quite a while," Central Catholic coach Greg Dempsey said. "Not just the way they've led their teams, but their ability. There have been more college coaches running through this part of the state in the last two years than there ever have been before."
Cosiano and Wolf are also likely to play quarterback in college, and are still hoping for scholarships at the D-I level. All four quarterbacks are expected to be the central figures in their teams' title chances this year.
"They're all coached well, and the offenses they're in are all taking advantage of those skills," Findlay coach Mark Ritzler said. "Not only can they throw, but all of the guys can run the ball too.
"This is absolutely the best group I've seen around here, and I can't imagine four better kids than this."
"The TRAC is one of those leagues where you have to play you're A-game every week," Fremont Ross coach Derek Kidwell said. "Any four of those quarterbacks can win you a game on any given Friday.
"Maybe those leagues in Cincinnati have had some quarterbacks like that before, but nowhere around here have we ever had a group like this."
Defending champion Whitmer, which reached the D-I state playoff semifinals the past two years, is also expected to be back in the championship chase under first-year head coach Jerry Bell.
The Panthers would have added a fifth experienced starting quarterback to this arms race at the top of the TRAC, but senior Tyler Palka has transferred to Saline (Mich.) High School. His father, former Whitmer coach Joe Palka, is the new head coach and school administrator there.
The 6-foot-4, 195-pound Roback burst onto the prep scene as a sophomore at St. John's. In that 2010 season, he helped the Titans to an 11-2 finish and an advancement to the D-I regional final.
For his part, Roback passed for 2,193 yards and 25 touchdowns as a sophomore, breaking the Titans' career TD pass record in a single season. With the luxury of a strong cast at the skill positions in 2010, a group headed by All-Ohio receiver/defensive back Cheatham Norrils, Roback earned first-team All-City League and D-I all-district honors that year.
Such was not the case last season. A St. John's squad, having already sustained several key graduation losses, suffered through a litany of injuries. Roback, often having to force the issue in the passing game, completed 98 of 181 passes for 1,645 yards and 14 TDs in 2011 as St. John's finished 7-3 overall and 4-3 in the TRAC.
"Last year the injury bug hit us," Roback said. "We learned that you have to have depth on your team. Everybody has to learn their position, and we need more role players. We don't need all-stars. We just need guys to step up, know their role, get it done, and play together.
"Last year was more of a rebuilding year skill-position wise. We should be pretty good this year. I know we're going to be looked at as the underdogs in a lot of games, which is good. In my sophomore year in 2010, we were looked at as the underdog in some games, and we came out and proved something."
Roback listed Mid-American Conference schools Toledo, Bowling Green, Miami (Ohio), Ohio, Akron, Western Michigan and Buffalo as the other D-I programs that had offered him a scholarship. Big Ten champion Wisconsin also showed recruiting interest in Roback.
"Brogan has great foot speed and tremendous arm strength," said Pearson. "He has all the tools to dominate a football game, which he's done. His potential is very high at the next level, once he's a full-time college student working on football year round. That's going to be very good for him.
"The only flaws I see in him are that sometimes he tries to create some things, or he tries too hard to make something happen. He's got to learn to let the game come to him. When he does that, he is really good."
Kizer, who starred on the Central freshman team in 2010, took a few games to adjust to the varsity level last season before progressing into one of the area's top quarterbacks by season's end.
The 6-5, 210-pounder passed for 1,226 yards and 10 touchdowns in helping the Irish to an 8-4 finish (5-2 TRAC), and to the second round of the D-II state playoffs.
"I learned last year to trust my teammates around me, and to trust my offensive line," Kizer said of his progress. "I learned to play my own role instead of trying to play everyone else's. And, I learned how to play faster at the varsity level.
"We're lucky to have a lot of guys back this year. They all got time on the field last year and this year we're excited to come out and compete and play against some of the best in the league."
Kizer lists Illinois, Nebraska, Boston College, Syracuse, Kentucky, Louisville, Toledo and Bowling Green among the D-I programs to have offered him a scholarship.
"DeShone has an unbelievable ceiling when it comes to his talent and his intelligence," Dempsey said. "He's just a well-rounded kid. When we were 3-2 after five games, and he had about 300 yards passing with one touchdown and three interceptions.
"He finished with 1,226 yards passing and 10 touchdowns, and he rushed for about 500 yards. He really matured as a player, not just as a kid with talent. He started to become a leader, and that's something we hope continues this season."
Cosiano, in his first year as a starter in 2011, led Findlay on a march to its first playoff appearance since 2005. The Trojans went 9-1 during the regular season, with their only loss coming against TRAC champion Whitmer (49-23). Findlay then fell 35-28 in overtime at Hudson in the first round of the D-I playoffs.
"Our players and our coaches knew we had a good team last year, and we just wanted to go out and execute on Friday nights," Cosiano said. "This year we know we're not going to surprise anybody. We know we're going to have to work that much harder to get ourselves ready.
"We have a lot of guys back on our offense. A couple seniors graduated on defense, but we have some guys to fill those holes. [Being named first-team All-TRAC quarterback] was just a testament to the players I have around me. I have great receivers and a great offensive line. Basically, I just got the ball to my playmakers, and this year I'll do the same thing."
In earning his first-team All-TRAC honor, the 6-1, 205-pound Cosiano completed 119 of his 181 passes (66 percent) for conference bests of 2,032 yards and 19 TDs. He also ran for 167 yards and a score.
"Paul is very even-keeled," Ritzler said. "He doesn't get too high or too low. One of the best things about him is that he values the football. He doesn't turn it over.
"He knows when to throw it away, he knows when to tuck it and run, and he makes sure that, one way or another, we're kicking at the end of our possession. That's something that was really good about him last year, and we expect it to be even better this year."
Wolf has been the best pass-run threat among the TRAC quarterback pack. The athletic and versatile 6-0, 180-pounder, who missed some time with injuries, was 72-of-129 passing for 899 yards and nine TDs, plus rushed 104 times for 521 yards and 13 TDs for the Little Giants (5-5, 2-5).
"We had a lot of injuries last year and a lot of big, key guys were missing," Wolf said of his team losing five of its last seven games. "This year we've got a lot of those guys back, so we're looking to stay healthy and be competitive in the TRAC.
"We've got a great group of seniors, so we're very excited. We're all headed toward the same goal. We want a TRAC championship, and that's what we're going to try and go get. We're going to have to stay together as a family, and play together. We know we can do that."
During his sophomore season, Wolf led Fremont Ross to a 9-1 regular season, including a 5-0 mark and a title in the final season of the former Greater Buckeye Conference. The Little Giants fell 45-35 to St. John's in the opening round of the 2010 D-I playoffs.
"Tyler has versatility, first and foremost," said Kidwell, himself a former Ohio Mr. Football when he played quarterback at Fostoria. "With his natural athletic ability, he could probably play any position on the field besides the interior lines.
"He's very smart. I don't want to talk about when we don't have him because he's so valuable. Our offense goes as he goes. That's kind of been the case here at Fremont. We go as our quarterback goes, and he's as good as any of them I've had."
Contact Steve Junga at: email@example.com 419-724-6461, or on Twitter @JungaBlade.