Patrick Henry has claimed at least a share of the NWOAL title for eight straight seasons. Hoping to continue that streak are seniors, from left, Mitchell Schulze, Xavier Dye and Josh Almanza.
For the last eight seasons Patrick Henry has claimed at least a share of the Northwest Ohio Athletic League football title. And this year the league's coaches expect them to again push for the crown.
"I think everyone else just likes not having to pick their team," PH coach Bill Inselmann said. "I think we'll be hard-pressed to repeat what we've done. We've got a lot of shoes to fill from a tremendous senior class."
The big question entering this season isn't if the Patriots deserve to be considered the favorite, because they do. The question is which team will challenge Patrick Henry for the title.
Inselmann said his team won't lack for challengers.
"This is the strongest that Fulton County has been in a while," he said. "In my opinion, Archbold and Wauseon are the most-talented teams.
"Archbold has a lot of speed, and Archbold has an advantage with their wide-open offense in a league that doesn't have many of those. Wauseon has good size and strength, and they return a veteran quarterback.
"And two other teams you have to watch out for are Delta and Evergreen. They are both young teams that took some lumps, and now those kids are back with some experience."
Bryan also is expected to contend for the title after suffering just one league loss a year ago. But the Golden Bears will need to replace a number of seniors, especially in the skill positions.
Another thing the rest of the NWOAL will have to deal with is the self-assurance that Patrick Henry's recent title streak has engendered.
"I've thought that one of the contributing factors to our run is the confidence factor," Inselmann said. "Our kids believe they are good, believe they can win. As long you can keep that from turning into overconfidence, you give yourself a chance to be successful.
"When your team runs onto the field, you don't want them to wanting to win; you want them to expect to win. That's something that has been passed on during this great run we've had, and I expect that to continue."
Here is a look at the teams in predicted order of finish:
Coach: Bill Inselmann, 20th year
Last season: 13-1 overall, 8-0 NWOAL
Last 10 years: 107-19, 71-9
Returning letter winners: 12
Returning starters: offense 3, defense 4
Schemes: West Coast/5-2
Top players: Seniors Josh Almanza, 6-0, 195, G-DE; Xavier Dye, 5-9, 190, G-NG; Mitchell Schulze, 6-0, 205, T-LB; Kasey Spence, 6-1, 180, QB-DB. Junior Alex Wilhelm, 5-11, 170, WR-CB. Sophomore Jake Carrizales, 6-1, 220, TE-DE.
Outlook: The Patriots lost four all-league players on each side of the ball, including the entire skill position set on offense. But PH does have a number of players with varsity experience and will rely on Spence and a talented group of receivers to power the offense behind a line led by Almanza, an All-NWOAL first-team last year.
On defense Dye, a first-team all-league pick, is a disruptive force who will lead a veteran line. That line will need to be good early as the Patriots bring back just four starters.
But Inselmann said he isn't as concerned by the lack of returning starters as he is by the lower-than-usual number of players on the roster. PH has just 38 players because of a small junior class.
"One of our reasons for success has been returning good junior and senior classes, and this season we've only got eight juniors," Inselmann said. "We've got more question marks than normal for this year, so time will tell [if we can repeat]."
Coach: Bryan Miller, second year
Last season: 6-4, 5-3
Last 10 years: 58-47, 44-36
Returning letter winners: 27
Returning starters: offense 4, defense 5
Top players: Seniors Aaron Bontrager, 5-11, 155, K; Noah Keefer, 5-11, 165, WR-DB; Ben Miller, 6-3, 255, OT-DT; Garrett Morton, 6-2, 175, QB; Isaac Rosales, 5-5, 195, G/DT; Desmond Sleigh, 5-11, 160, WR/DB.
Outlook: The Blue Streaks look to have one of the league's most explosive offenses thanks to Morton, who threw for 2,455 yards and 17 TDs and ran for 15 more scores, and a cast of fast receivers led by Keefer (34 catches, 417 yards) and Sleigh (31 catches, 462 yards).
Archbold has some questions to answer on defense as the Streaks switch to a 4-3 alignment and replace six starters, five of whom ranked among the team's top six tacklers. Keefer led the team in stops a year ago with 68.
The Blue Streaks also have a special teams weapon in Bontrager, who made 36 of 39 extra points and was perfect on six field-goal attempts.
"We have a lot of talent, especially at the skill positions," Miller said. "The keys will be for us to stay healthy and to have our young guys on the offensive line step up."
Coach: Mark Emans, 21st year
Last season: 5-5, 4-4
Last 10 years: 49-51, 44-36
Returning letter winners: 12
Returning starters: offense 4, defense 8
Top players: Seniors Tyler Cahill, 6-0, 332, C; Drake Dulaney, 5-9, 209, DL; Austin Kutzli, 5-8, 170, DL; Marcus Oldham, 6-0, 180, DE; Carter Roth, 6-1, 157, SE; Landon Schaffner, 5-10, 175, QB; Trent Seiler, 5-9, 197, OG.
Outlook: While the Indians return just four starters on offense, they do start with an experience quarterback in Schaffner, who ranked among the league leaders with 774 rushing yards and seven TDs last year. The offensive line also should be a strength thanks to the return of Cahill and Seiler, both of whom received all-league honors.
The defense brings back eight starters, with the line led by Kutzli, an All-NWOAL performer. But Wauseon's depth all over the field is good, thanks in large part to large numbers in the two upper classes.
The biggest concerns for the Indians are a general lack of team speed and the usual worries about depth.
"Our senior and junior classes are good back-to-back classes that work well with each other," Emans said.
"We probably won't start a sophomore, and that's a good measure of our experience."
Coach: Travis Cooper, third year
Last season: 8-3, 7-1
Last 10 years: 41-60, 36-44
Returning letter winners: 16
Returning starters: offense 3, defense 6
Schemes: Run and boot/multiple 50
Top players: Seniors Jeremiah Dietrich, 5-10, 239, DT-RB; Alex Hey, 6-8, 272, Drew Nossaman, 5-11, 207, LB-RB; Jake Phillips, 6-1, 207, LB-RB; Cody Robinson, 5-11, 170, QB-DB; Miguel Rodriguez, 6-0, 212, OG-DE. Sophomore Collin Bacon, 5-11, 180, WR-DB.
Outlook: The Golden Bears were hit hard by graduation, losing a number of skill-position players from the first team in school history to advance to the state playoffs.
But Bryan has a base upon which to built thanks to the return of several key players on the line. The offense will be anchored by Hey and Rodriguez, both of whom earned all-league and all-district honors, while the defense will be led by Dietrich and Phillips, both of whom were named to the All-NWOAL team.
"We lost some important guys at the skill positions, so I am concerned about our inexperience at those
positions," Cooper said. "But I expect the strength of this team to be on
Coach: Nate Ruple, second year
Last season: 3-7, 3-5
Last 10 years: 72-39, 52-28
Returning letter winners: 16
Returning starters: offense 9, defense 9
Top players: Seniors Josh Beverly, 6-2, 175, RB-DB; Zak Eisel, 6-0, 155, TE/DE; Shawn Leininiger, 6-1, 225, OL-DE; Zach Nolen, 5-10, 190, G-DL; Adam Pawlicki, 6-0, 180, TE-DE; Eric Puehler, 6-1, 200, RB-LB; Drew Salsbury, 6-3, 180, QB-DB; Jeremy Schmitz, 5-9, 200, K-P; Dylan Schuette, 6-0, 275, OL-DL. Junior Nico Arredondo, 5-10, 250, OL-LB;
Outlook: Last year the Panthers took some lumps, using a lineup filled with underclassmen. This season Delta hopes to return the favor as 15 seniors with a lot of experience provide this team's foundation.
The running attack returns the one-two punch of Puehler, who ran for 1,186 yards and scored 12 TDs to earn All-NWOAL honors, and Beverly, who added 508 rushing yards while catching 18 passes for 293 more yards.
The Panthers also should be strong on special teams thanks to the return of Schmitz, an all-league pick who did the team's kicking and punting.
"We are fortunate to have a great group of seniors leading us this season," Ruple said. "I'm excited by the talent on this team, especially on the offensive line. But depth is still a major concern."
Coach: Rex Lingruen, 26th year
Last season: 7-3, 6-2
Last 10 years: 86-28, 62-18
Returning letter winners: 9
Returning starters: offense 4, defense 7
Top players: Seniors Justin Joseph, 6-1, 180, HB-DB; Kyler Miller, 5-8, 160, QB-DB. Juniors Justin Gillen, 6-4, 250, T-DE; Bryan Hefflinger, 6-1, 215, LB-FB.
Outlook: The Tigers were hit hard by graduation, especially on offense as the team's top two rushers and three all-league linemen are gone. A lot of the load will fall on the shoulders of Miller, who completed 47 of 84 passes for 642 yards and 11 TDs.
The defense brings back seven starters, a group led by Hefflinger, who made 110 tackles last season and was voted All-NWOAL second team. But Liberty Center may start a number of sophomores to fill holes on both sides of the ball.
"If we lost someone, it would hurt us big-time because we'll have a lot of players going both ways," Lingruen said. "But if we stay healthy we could be pretty good. Everyone on our team will have a good chance of playing on Friday nights."
Coach: Todd Thieken, sixth year
Last season: 4-6, 2-6
Last 10 years: 41-59, 27-53
Returning letter winners: 16
Returning starters: offense 8, defense 7
Top players: Seniors Eric Boger, 6-5, 235, OT-DE; Dalton DeWitt, 6-2, 210, OT-DT; Lucas Pennington, 6-4, 205, QB-S; T.J. Thieken, 6-3, 190, TE-LB; Derrick Truckor, 5-9, 160, RB-CB; Clayton Wielinski, 6-1, 175, WR-S. Juniors Chad Monaghan, 6-1, 185, RB-LB; Malachi Tipping, 6-2, 230, OG-LB.
Outlook: The Vikings return a number of starters on offense and defense from a year ago, with the experience spread throughout both units.
On offense Monaghan ran for 751 yards and finished with nine TDs to earn all-league honors. Pennington completed 109 of 165 passes for 1,412 yards and eight scores, but those numbers may drop as the Vikings switch to a more run-oriented offense.
They will work behind a veteran line led by Boger, another All-NWOAL pick, and DeWitt, both of whom will also play key roles on defense. The special teams will be led by Pennington, who earned All-Ohio honors as a punter.
"This is one of the most athletic groups I've had at
Evergreen, and we have quite a bit of speed," coach Thieken said. "Our weakness is depth, so we'll have to stay healthy to have some success."
Coach: Adam Baumgartner, second year
Last season: 0-10, 0-8
Last 10 years: 26-74, 16-64
Returning letter winners: 11
Returning starters: offense 6, defense 7
Top players: Seniors Abram Franzdorf, 5-9, 200, OL-DL; Joel Hartman, 5-9, 160, DB-SE; Keagan Hartsock, 5-9, 165, DB-QB; Kyle Long, 5-9, 170, RB-LB; Jake Thompson, 5-9, 200, OL-LB.
Outlook: The Locomotives are looking to snap a 21-game losing streak that has led to back-to-back winless seasons. And the numbers remain thin for Baumgartner, who is looking to build up numbers in a program that has 33 players this season.
Six starters are back on offense, a group led by Hartsock, who last year threw for 478 yards and three scores. Among the seven starters back on defense are a good group of linebackers, most notably Long and Thompson. But depth and size are questions on both lines.
"Our objective is to continue to form positive relationships with the young men in our community," Baumgartner said. "If we continue to do this long enough, the [rebuilding] will take care of itself."
Coach: Shawn Kinnee, first year
Last season: 2-8, 1-7
Last 10 years: 17-83, 9-17
Returning letter winners: 14
Returning starters: offense 7, defense 6
Top players: Seniors Taylor Evearitt, 5-8, 185, RB-DL; Sam Knepley, 5-7, 165, RB-DB; Tom Leahey, 5-9, 180, RB-LB. Juniors Travis Hilton, 6-1, 180, QB-DB; Mimmo Lytle, 6-3, 270, OL-DL. Sophomore Andrew Foore, 5-7, 160, RB-DB.
Outlook: The Bulldogs are hoping the lumps they have taken the last two years start to pay dividends this season, as a number of starters return on both sides of the ball.
On offense there is experience at the skill positions as Hilton completed 80 of 176 passes for 1,157 yards and eight TDs last season while Leahey led the team with 360 yards rushing. And Lytle, an All-Ohio wrestler, will anchor the lines on both sides of the ball.
But like Montpelier, the Bulldogs need to overcome the atmosphere around a program that hasn't won a league title since 1996.
"We need to be able to run the football well - and stop the run on defense," Kinnee said. "We also have put a big emphasis on special teams during camp."
Contact John Wagner at:
or (419) 724-6481.