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Published: Tuesday, 8/24/2010

Some northwest Ohio teams prepare for final season in leagues

BY RYAN AUTULLO
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

Before the six teams that make up the Greater Buckeye Conference go their own ways, they will battle one last time for the league championship.

Findlay and Napoleon finished in a three-way tie with Sandusky for last year's GBC title, and all three co-champs face varying degrees of uncertainty this fall.

Findlay (5-5, 4-1 GBC) knocked off Napoleon on the road in week 10 to secure a share of the GBC title, and Trojans coach Mark Ritzler hopes "the momentum we got from that can continue on this year."

Ritzler has yet to determine who will replace five graduated seniors along the offensive line. Returning for

Trojans, who will join the Three Rivers Athletic Conference next season, are quarterback Matt Spragg (1,337 yards, 15 TDs) and receiver Cody Ramsey (31 catches, 383 yards, five TDs). Last year's defense is mostly in tact and returns defensive linemen Tyler Campbell and Dillon Boes, who combined for six sacks.

Napoleon (9-2, 4-1 GBC) was hit hard by graduation.

The Wildcats, under third year coach Tory Strock, lost 21 of 22 starters from a squad that advanced to the playoffs.

Center Ben Flogaus is the lone returning starter.

"I am pleased with our offseason work, as well as our preseason preparation," Strock said. "We have a number of starters who have never been on the field for a varsity snap."

Napoleon will join the Northern Lakes League beginning next year.

Derek Kidwell was not happy Fremont Ross (5-5, 1-4 GBC) handled its preseason favorite tag so poorly last year, and he has let his players know it. The Little Giants, who are also headed to the TRAC next fall, have gone from lifting weights three days a week to four. Kidwell, in his 11th year as a head coach and seventh at Ross, also hired a strength and conditioning coach.

"This is the hardest I've ever had a team work," he said. "Our kids understand the disappointment we had last year. They want to turn it around and have a successful season."

The Little Giants lost 24 players to graduation, but returning is senior Greg Brown (RB, FS), who has verbally committed to play at the University of Michigan. Sophomore quarterback Tyler Wolf will take over an offense that is switching from spread oriented to a power attack.

"I just haven't liked how we've been a little passive on the offensive line the past couple of years," Kidwell said.

• Co-defending champion Clyde is predicted to win the Sandusky Bay Conference, followed by Huron.

Oak Harbor (4-6, 3-4 SBC) was voted third by the league's coaches and fourth by the media.

Third-year Rockets coach Mike May has 15 seniors and returns 13 starters - seven on offense, six on defense.

"There's a lot of optimism with our team," May said. "We feel pretty good about the direction we're heading in."

Quarterback Steve Young is back for a third year, and he'll be handing the ball off to tailback Jake Scott, who rushed for nearly 900 yards in 2009. Davey Burkett, an All-SBC second team pick last year, is back at free safety.

Coach Toby Hammond feels as good about this season as any in his seven years at Port Clinton (4-6, 2-5 SBC).

PC's win total from last year, when it had just six seniors, was the highest since 1996.

The Redskins have 48 players in the upper three grades. When Hammond arrived, he had just 32 players spread including freshmen. Still, PC is picked to finish just one spot from the bottom.

"Last year we played with a lot of kids that probably weren't ready for Friday night games," Hammond said. "This year that should help us."

Hammond has three players from last year's basketball team that made it all the way to the Division II state championship game. Point guard Derek Colston started all 10 games at quarterback in 2009, and Josh Graves (WR, DB) and Eric Reynolds (TE, LB) are two-way starters.

"Hopefully their success [in basketball] helps us this coming fall," Hammond said.

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• Health at quarterback will be key for Fostoria (3-7, 2-5) as it hopes to be a player in the Northern Ohio League.

A promising season a year ago never materialized as the Redmen were forced to play seven different quarterbacks because of injuries.

Along with Upper Sandusky and Galion, Fostoria will be leaving the NOL after this year and will join the Northern Buckeye Conference.

Tiffin Columbian is the preseason favorite in the NOL, and Fostoria is picked seventh of eight teams.

"We want to cause some damage before we leave," second-year coach Beau Carmon said.

Sophomore Adonis Cousin (6-1, 210) will start at quarterback. He suffered a broken wrist in the first junior varsity game last year and missed the rest of the season.

"He's got a lot of ability, he's got a very strong arm," Carmon said. "We just have

to find receivers that he can get the ball to."

Running back Trevon Tucker, whom Carmon believes is a Division I

college prospect, returns for his senior year.

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• There is a new leader, but the mission statement remains at Fremont St. Joseph (9-1, 6-1 Midland Athletic League). Former assistant coach Scott Knisely, also a St. Joe grad, takes over a team that shared last year's Midland Athletic League title and advanced to the playoffs for the first time since 1997.

Knisely, 28, spent the last three years as an offensive assistant under Todd Drusback, who is now at Rossford.

"Todd Drusback did an excellent job setting the tone for the St. Joe program, and I want to continue to do that," Knisely said. "Offensively and defensively we want to do the same things we've done in the past because we've had great success with it."

Seventeen starters return, including MAL offensive player of the year, running back Zak Bowman, who rushed for more than 1,700 yards.

Gone is the league's defensive player of the year, senior linebacker Isaac Bowling, who moved to Kentucky.

Knisely needs to pick a starting quarterback between seniors Matt Mehalko and Ben Zyski. The other will play receiver.

North Baltimore (2-8, 0-7 MAL) is steadily improving as a program, says fourth-year coach Chip Hollenback. He points to some fairly staggering numbers as proof.

In 2007, the Tigers scored 131 points and allowed 465. Those figures slightly improved in 2008 to 134 and 440. Then, last year, the Tigers made considerable leaps, scoring 222 points and allowing 304. North Baltimore has not finished .500 or above in the league in more than 30 years.

"So many of our kids have never won a game against another team in the MAL," Hollenback said. "It's almost like a mental block. That's what we're trying to overcome. We have to get that first MAL win to get the kids some confidence."

A year ago, Hollenback had just three offensive linemen. Now he has 19. Improvements are also being made at the grass-roots levels of the program, as the junior varsity will play a full schedule for the first time since 2005, and the junior high teams will also play full schedules.

As for the varsity team, 12 starters - six on each side of the ball - return as do 19 letter winners.

Lakota (4-6, 1-6 MAL) returns six starters, including two-way senior lineman Jarett Smith - a MAL honorable mention pick the past two years. Inexperience at quarterback and wide receiver could be troublesome for the Raiders in year three under coach Jim Kelly.

"A good mix of older and younger linemen is our strength," Kelly said. "Our team has the potential to mesh well if we can run the ball."

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• At Fostoria St. Wendelin (0-10, 0-7 NCC) only 16 players came out for the team.

There was debate within the school whether the Mohawks - of the Northwest Central Conference - would field a squad, but ultimately it was determined that they will give it a shot.

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• A year ago at this time Liberty-Benton (6-4, 6-3 BVC) needed to replace 21 of 22 starters from a state runner-up squad.

Coach Tim Nichols brings back 14 starters - seven on each side of the ball - and the Eagles could potentially be back in the mix atop the Blanchard Valley Conference. Usual suspects McComb, Cory-Rawson, Arlington and defending champion Leipsic should contend too.

All four starting receivers are back for L-B, including three - Seth Davis, Zac Cramer and Eric Stanton - who caught at least 30 passes. Sophomore Mitch Linhart is the probable starter at quarterback.

"We're going to lean on him just a little bit and trust he can make some good decisions," Nichols said. "Hopefully we'll be OK on offense."

McComb (7-3, 6-3 BVC) barely missed the playoffs last year and could take that step this time around because of a solid returning core.

Senior quarterback Andrew Dee, who missed much of last year with a broken thumb, is one of six returning starters on offense. His primary targets will be 6-foot-1 receiver Taylor Hanes, who, according to coach Kris Alge, is receiving some looks from college coaches, and senior Mason Roth, who filled in last year at quarterback and threw for 1,200 yards.

Five starters return on defense, including Hanes, Roth, and linemen T.J.

Grifith and Michael Keller.

"I think our chances are good this year if we stay healthy," Alge said. "We'd like to think we're one of the top teams in our area."

Kevin Shoup takes over at Van Buren (2-8, 2-7) and inherits nine starters.

Logan Eaton (6-1, 232) and Jacob Huber (5-10, 216) will anchor a line that hopes to open holes for backs Brandon Lucas (5-11, 192) and Chad Sonnenberg (5-4, 157).

"This year's team has had a great offseason," Shoup said. "They have worked hard all spring and summer and are committed to turning this program around."

A junior class of 14,

combined with six seniors, will provide Arcadia (2-8, 1-8 BVC) with solid experience. Coach Paul Shoemaker has 35 players, an increase over the last few years.

"We're making strides,"

Shoemaker said. "We're getting to where we want to be. We're not there yet, but we're getting there."

Shoemaker said senior two-way lineman Chris Moses has "made huge gains from last year." At quarterback will be sophomore Casey Mock who played in six games a year ago.

Shoemaker expects production from juniors Garrett Schling (G, LB) and Trevor Colman (WR, LB).

Contact Ryan Autullo at:

rautullo@theblade.com

or 419-724-6160.



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