Sonny Fulks
Sonny Fulks
Managing Editor

Sonny Fulks is a graduate of Ohio State University and pitched four varsity seasons for the Buckeye baseball team from 1971 through 1974.  He furthered his baseball experience as a minor league league umpire for seven years, working in the Florida State League (A), the Southern League (AA), and the American Association (AAA).  He has written for numerous websites and outdoor publications, and for the past ten years has served as a regular columnist and photo editor for Gettysburg Magazine, published by the University of Nebraska Press.  Widely knowledgeable on that period of American History, Fulks is a frequent speaker on the Civil War at local roundtables throughout the Midwest. He and wife Mindy have two grown children and live in Covington, Ohio.

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Out of the frying pan and into the fire they say, as another high school football season launches in a week. If you’ve been under a rock, here’s my picks for teams of interest…and just how well they MIGHT do.

I’ve written this same column since the old, old days of the original WPTW.com website that I once authored, now defunct. In the summer of 2007 I found it a good way (even though no one knew the site existed) to bring attention to the station’s sports profile, and I also found that people take publicity, and predictions, WAY TOO SERIOUSLY.

But any publicity, even bad, is good in the media business. And so it is, on the eve of another football season that I list my handful of area teams that portend intrigue for the 2017 season.

Why?

Well, some have simply survived to see their time. The cycle, so often talked about in high school sports, giveth, and it taketh away. Some teams have athletes now that they didn’t have five years ago.

Two, experience favors some that showed a glimpse last year, like St. Henry, and that year’s seasoning and a post-season bid automatically gives them a two-week head start on teams that didn’t make the playoffs.

Three, there are instances this year where the league simply favors teams other than the perennial favorites, like the MAC, the Cross County Conference, and to a lesser extent, the GWOC North.  It will be, in the words of one area coach…a wide-open year in area football!

Four, teams that have changed leagues, like Loramie, are sure to change the dynamics of their new affiliation. More about that in a few paragraphs.

And last, all bets are off in the face of unsuspected injuries, which goes a long way in determining every football season.

By the way, I have my old columns for the past five seasons on Press Pros – this same column – and in terms of predictions I’m running north of 70%. So regardless of how seriously you take what you’re about to read, remember it was Jack Nicholson ( in A Few Good Men) who famously said, “Some people just can’t stand the truth.” Not me!

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St. Henry Redskins…Members of the MAC conference, right out of the chute I’m claiming Brath Luthman’s Redskins to be one of my teams that bears watching. They finished 7-3 last year (8-4 with games in the post-season) and while they lost significant members to graduation they return the hottest throwing quarterback in the MAC last year. Daylon Lange caught fire after getting the job in week 3 and took the team to a 7-3 record under his leadership. He returns for his senior season with some familiar, complementary tools that can run and catch, but most of all he returns at the helm of a classic program that’s been under the radar, but now is on the rise. The ‘Skins are stocked with bountiful young classes of athletes and the returning upperclassmen are buoyed by last year’s success…and Lange’s leadership. In a league that’s going to come back to the pack this year, I pick St. Hank to improve by a game (8-2), make the post-season again, and take the next step towards an even deeper November run within two years.

Whit Parks and the Loramie Redskins will make waves in their debut with the Cross County Conference.

Whit Parks and the Loramie Redskins will make waves in their debut with the Cross County Conference.

Ft. Loramie Redskins…More Redskins? Whiskey, tango, foxtrot! The Anit-Defamation League will be on someone’s doorstep soon to insist that St. Henry and Loramie change their nicknames. Nah…there’s no money in it at this level, the basis of that argument. But believe it, Whit Parks has a reliable senior class at Loramie, an offense that reminds some of what Custer saw at Little Big Horn, and the advantage of springing it on a new league affiliation. For years some have said that the biggest thing standing in the way of Loramie football was better competition week to week. We’ll see, as they move to the Cross County Conference and take on the likes of Covington, Miami East, Tri-County North, and what some believe will soon be a revived Arcanum. Parks has his quarterback back and healthy (Austin Siegel), and a couple of slot athletes that he swears he can use to keep teams from stacking the box against the single-wing. They just have to stay healthy (Siegel missed last year with a knee). If they can they’re going to fatten up against Tri-Village, National Trail, Ansonia, Mississinawa and TV South. But to get to them they have to wade through Minster, Covington and East to start the season. Prediction? Stay healthy, and you’ll go no worse than 8-2.

Piqua's running game with Ben Schmiesing will make them competitive against nearly anyone on their schedule.

Piqua’s running game with Ben Schmiesing will make them competitive against nearly anyone on their schedule.

Piqua…Somehow, the Indians went 7-3 last year, developed one of the area’s better running games, even without Darion Tipps-Clemons, and didn’t make the playoffs…thanks to the Dayton City League mess with Dunbar and Belmont. But that hasn’t deterred Bill Nees and staff as he comes back for what seems like his 40th season as head coach. They’re well fortified, they have their starting quarterback back from ’16, they have their featured running back back (Ben Schmiesing)…and they’ve got Nees, one of the area’s best. They’ve also got a huge influx of freshmen and sophs so they’re going to be well-stocked for the future. But they’ve got a challenging early schedule with Trotwood and Franklin in weeks two and three, and Franklin throttled the Indians, in Franklin, last year. After that, Sidney, Tipp, and Troy. Health was a major issue last year, with Tipps-Clemons and Hite lost for the year, so perhaps they catch a break this year. If they do they’ll be fine. I’m thinking…another 7-3 fine.

Covington…Intrigue, you ask? What’s intriguing about a team that goes 10-0 every year and wins their league. Well, they don’t go 10-0 every year, not quite, and the Buccs face the ultimate good new/bad news scenario for 2017. The good news is they have better than 50 in uniform, the most in years. The bad news is…they’re the youngest team Covington’s had since 2004, when they put only 4 true senior position players on the field. 36 of the 51 on their current roster are freshmen and sophomores, and of the remaining 15 they’re missing a lot of firepower from last year’s 11-1 team that went two games deep in the post-season. Ty Cates has it going, however, having spread the field to give more athletes more reason to come out for football. They actually throw it now in Covington, and that translated into wins for them last year. They start out with long shot match-ups in weeks one and two, with St. Henry and Minster – and then welcome Loramie to the friendly confines of Smith Field. After that, smoother sailing, even with the kiddie corps. Prediction: No 10-0 this year. They’re too young.  But if Cates can go 6-4 they’ll prepare for more customary-type campaigns in the future. He might not like it…but he’ll understand. He’s a fine young coach.

After massive losses to graduation the past three seasons, Chip Otten's challenge is to prove the system can replenish and still compete.

After massive losses to graduation the past three seasons, Chip Otten’s challenge is to prove the system can replenish and still compete.

Coldwater…What’s makes the five-time consecutive state finalists intriguing is the sudden question of how much graduation can you stand…and still be good? The Cavaliers have graduated huge classes over the past three seasons, and yet…they met Canton Central Catholic in the Division V finals last December as if was just another Saturday on their yearly calendar. But…gone is quarterback Dylan Thobe, Neal Muhlenkamp, and Andrew Siefring; and Muhlenkamp was 1st Team All-MAC at three positions, to magnify his significance. So the intrigue here is…can Chip Otten take the remnants of four consecutive titles and a second-place finish and maintain their remarkable standard of consistency? And let’s face it…he’s already debunked the once-offered question about winning with what John Reed had developed prior to Otten taking the reins in 2010. But without question, Otten has proved to be his own man. “The System” has some vital pieces in place, huge returning linemen in Thomas Schwieterman (6’4”, 285) and Cody Hart (6’4”, 275). And true athlete and senior, Sam Broering, assumes the QB position. Steady components Brad Giere and Seth Obringer take over at running back, and then…the long-standing tradition of interchangeable parts on defense and special teams. How good could they be? Well, it really does depend on Otten’s system and the experience gained from JV football and second-unit play on varsity blow-outs. Somehow, they open with a pair of tough games…and a week 2 encounter with perennial power Clinton-Massie. And, what goes around comes around in the MAC, so don’t expect them to go unblemished, even though outside games with Marion and St. Hank I think their schedule is favorable. They’re calling it “retooling”, and if they can stay healthy I still think there’s enough parts to go…7-3, maybe even 8-2!

Senior quarterback Jared Huelsman is a born leader, and has enough weapons around him to make Minster a team to respect...again!

Senior quarterback Jared Huelsman is an experienced leader, and has enough weapons around him to make Minster a team to respect…again!

Minster…It’s always intriguing to consider a reigning state finalist with a returning quarterback like Jared Huelsman. Huelsman was the best playmaker in the MAC last year, a born leader, and he had the yards and post-season accolades to prove it. And, with Geron Stokes’ go-for-the-jugular offense Huelsman’s got plenty of skill position players around him with which to retool. Their big bull running back, Bryce Schmiesing is gone, but Isaac Schmiesing is back, with friends, and the Wildcats have a huge, and experienced, offensive line, anchored by senior Luke Puthoff and Nate Moeller. In a wide-open league this year, there’s enough left over to make another run, despite Stokes’ reputation for claiming to be a hardship case. He’s preached toughness for four years and the ‘Cats have bought in. The proof being a state title in ’14 and a shot at a state title in ’16. Prediction: They could win 6 or 7 behind Huelsman, but experienced depth could be an issue if the frontliners get banged up, especially Huelsman.

Tipp City…For years when he was head coach at Tipp, Charlie Burgbacher insisted that the Red Devils COULD NOT play with the Piquas and Troys of the GWOC. Well, Joel Derge proved otherwise last year, even while losing to both Piqua and Troy. But they did beat Fairborn, Butler, Sidney, and Greenville…and lost to Piqua by a mere touchdown. They finished 6-5, lost to Franklin in the playoffs, 41-40, and got their feet wet enough against the heightened competition to come back this year with fresh optimism. And that fresh optimism has a lot to do with the return of tailback Cole Barhorst, who’s like trying to tackle an anvil…low to the ground, and heavy. They lost some key figures to graduation, but their Wing-T running attack has always been about interchangeable parts, fostered by well-schooled offensive linemen. They won’t throw it much, but when they do they’ll catch you flat-footed…and beat you. Their schedule is not easy, again, with the GWOC North, Northmont, Trotwood, and non-cons Bellbrook and Springfield Shawnee. They’re good enough, with Barhorst, to win on a given night, but they’ve gotta’ defend. They gave up 40 or more points too many times last year. Like Charlie said, to beat Troy, Piqua, Sidney, Northmont, and Trotwood…they gotta’ show a lot more. A 6-win season for the Devils.

Marion Local will defend their Division VI title with Notre Dame-bound tackle John Dirksen back and healthy.

Marion Local will defend their Division VI title with Notre Dame-bound tackle John Dirksen back and healthy.

Marion Local…Marion falls into that same category of what’s intriguing about a team that wins state five of the last six year? But in Maria Stein there’s no certainty at this point because…you can’t lose talents like Hunter Wilker and Duane Leugers and Jack Homan every year and continue to win? Or can you? Nate Bruns will replace Leugers (the 2016 PPM Athlete of The Year) at quarterback and Matt Rethman will move up to the feature running back position. And yes, Notre Dame commit John Dirksen (6’6” and 295) is recovered from the broken leg suffered in week 4 of last year and back at offensive tackle. So yes, the Flyers will probably put the ball in the end zone with some regularity. What’s a concern, however, is how to replace Homan, John Knapschaefer, and Joel Goodwin on defense. This was a team in 2016 that made their mark in the playoffs by simply out-hitting people and being in the right place at the right time. “Newark Catholic and Marion Local are the two hardest teams we faced all year,” said one Cuyahoga Heights player after the Division VI title game. In a wide-open league, expect some challenges on the early schedule with CJ in week one, and Coldwater in week three. And perhaps an even more intriguing game…that St. Henry team we like in week nine and enough challenge in between. Prediction: 8-2, and yes, to the playoffs.

Third-year coach Matt Burgbacher has to prove that his success of a 2016 can be sustained.

Third-year coach Matt Burgbacher has to prove that his success of a 2016 can be sustained.

There’s a lot of teams that can contend for the the last spot here, but the one I’m picking…is Troy. Troy, even though Sidney, Anna and Lehman are worthy of mention. But after returning to their rightful place in local football hierarchy a year ago (10-2), it remains to be seen just how much of that culture that Matt Burgbacher speaks of has been restored to Trojan football. Hayden Kotwica and Josh Browder are gone, and for that complementing roster that we’ve heard so much about in Burgbacher’s three years…it’s time to see just how interchangeable the parts really are. We’ll see how mature the culture is at this point. The most compelling reason to believe is that the Trojans, as Burgbacher has constantly claimed, have bought into the message that they can – they really can – compete if they follow the plan and trust in the system. And that system is well presented. Just ask anyone they played last year, with the exception of Miamisburg, who narrowly beat Troy twice. The proof of that is looking at the box scores and seeing how many different Trojans made plays throughout the year…and plays that helped them win a football game. But they’ve got to have a quarterback!  They have winable games to start out with (Bellefontaine, Xenia and Fairborn), and they’ll get an idea of just how much culture they have with a road opener with Trotwood. Beyond that it gets tough. Miamisburg, again, on the road, and improved Butler and Piqua at home. How good can they be? How good is the culture? 7-3!

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