Northwood’s Dominik Bermejo runs for a touchdown against Ottawa Hills. Bermejo rushed for 351 yards on 57 carries and scored 17 touchdowns. He also had 13 catches for 328 yards.
With only six seniors on his varsity roster, plus two other returning letter winners, veteran Northwood coach Ken James said he is puzzled as to why his Toledo Area Athletic Conference football counterparts voted his Rangers as the favorite to win their third straight conference title this year.
But if the other TAAC coaches were asked to spell out their reasoning for James, they would likely respond with “R-E-S-P-E-C-T.”
Since joining the TAAC in 2001, the Rangers have won nine of 12 conference championships, and placed second in the other three years (2005, 2006, 2010). In that span, Northwood has posted a dominant 65-4 record in TAAC games (92-37 overall), and advanced to the playoffs eight times.
So, when James seeks to have the bulls-eye removed from his team’s back — because the Rangers return only three starters returning on offense and four on defense — TAAC coaches just aren’t buying any rebuilding excuse.
READ MORE: 2013 High School Football Preview
Northwood (10-1 overall, 7-0 TAAC) received five of the eight first-place votes, and edged Gibsonburg by one voting point, to claim the favorite’s tag, whether James wanted it or not.
“We lost so many guys and we’re an entirely different team,” said James, who enters his 28th season at Northwood with a 152-128 record. “We’re not going to be as big or as deep, so that will change the way we do some of what we do on offense and defense.
“In reality, I’m not sure how we got picked that high, because other teams in the league have a lot more starters and good, quality kids back. I think it’s more of a reflection of what we’ve done [in the past] than what probably capable of this year, I guess. We’re the elephant in the room because we’ve had a pretty good track record.”
Gibsonburg (4-6, 4-3) received two first-place votes, and Edon (7-3, 5-2), which was voted to place third, picked up the other first-place nod.
“You can only put so much into that,” fourth-year Gibsonburg coach Steve Reser said of the poll. “If the coaches think you’re going to be good, that’s fine. But I think that’s based off of our team over the last few years.
Northwood's Jacob Davenport looks to get past Patrick Henry's Gabe Jones in a playoff game last season. Davenport caught 21 passes for 365 yards and nine touchdowns in 2012.
“Northwood lost a lot of seniors and Ottawa Hills lost a lot of seniors. That doesn’t mean they won’t be good this year.
“The recent history of Gibsonburg football has not been great. It’s been 12 years since we’ve had a winning record. So, the key is, if we do get off to a good start, to make sure we stay level-headed and keep fighting the whole season.”
Northwood, which was rightfully heavily favored to win the TAAC last year, when it returned 10 offensive starters and seven more of defense, posted a perfect 10-0 regular-season record before being edged 20-19 by perennial state power Patrick Henry in the first round of the Division V playoffs.
The most notable losses to graduation for the Rangers were TAAC offensive and defensive players of the year, Nick Russell and Nick Whitmore, respectively. Whitmore was a third-team All-Ohio selection at linebacker.
“One of our goals going into any season is to try to compete for the league title,” James said. “At this stage of the game, we want to get ourselves ready to be good enough to compete for the league title when we get down the stretch.
“Right now we’re just focused on trying to get better. Physically, we’re not a lot different than we were last year, if we stay healthy. The size of our offensive and defensive lines, and the speed at our skill positions, are not far off from what they were last year."