Before the first fumble, touchdown, field goal, or an “upset” (in Joe Neves terminology), here’s my shakeout of area football teams to watch this season…and why?
I wrote this same column prior to last year’s football opener and received the following emails (Lest you wonder, I have a great collection of love letters).
“You can’t even spell intrique, you idiot.” (For the record, I checked. It’s with a “G”, not a “Q”)
“Why read this? You write about the same teams every year.” (Uh, yeah. And I imagine that Sports Illustrated will write about the same teams they did last year, too…Alabama, Ohio State, Oregon, Clemson, Michigan, etc. You get the point.)
“How would you even know? All you ever write about is the MAC.” (Well, that’s kind of true. I do, personally, write the MAC each week. But if you notice, we have others who write the GWOC, the CCC, the SWBL, and others. Come Friday nights this fall, we’ll actually feature six area teams on Press Pros.)
So you see, even when you set out to do a good thing…you can’t please everybody.
But intrepid I am, and courageous to post again…my five teams of area INTRIGUE for area football in 2016. I’ll take into account that there will be several others who win six or seven games, and even make the playoffs. But it won’t be intriguing. What that takes…is adversity, irony, motivation, and in one case, just plain history. In some cases, they will be the same ol’ teams, just like Sports Illustrated.
In a couple of others, you’ll be surprised at what you don’t actually know, or at what you thought you knew.
Number 1) Coldwater…Out of the MAC, of course, my #1 team of intrigue, the Cavaliers lost a whopping 27 players to graduation last spring, including most of the starters on both sides of the ball. Adversity? Quarterback, running backs, receivers, linemen, linebackers, the area’s best kicker…all gone. Now the intrigue is to see if coach Chip Otten has enough parts to refit the football machine that actually seeks its fifth straight Division V title. Intrigue to see if they can even get to the post-season tournament. Five titles in a row has only been done once. Marion Local couldn’t do it last year. And trying to do it after having lost 36% of your roster is a bit over the top. But don’t count ‘em out yet. The Cavaliers crushed Defiance Tinora, a playoff team from last year, 41-0 in their final scrimmage. What graduation, eh?
Number 2) Marion Local…OK, we’ll get done with the MAC right out of the chute. The intrigue here is being a team, unlike Coldwater, with A LOT of weapons back from a group that should have won that fifth straight title last year…and didn’t! Leading 20-7 in the second half and driving for the put-away score, the Flyers coughed up the football on Kirtland’s 1 yard line. Kirtland recovered, drove the field to score, and totally flipped the momentum, and the outcome, of the Division VI championship. That memory has stuck hard in the minds of a big, talented, and experienced Marion roster. And while losing their share players to graduation, the Flyers are back and may actually be deeper than before. The intrigue here is the fact of MOTIVATION. Can they survive the gauntlet of the MAC? Can they use it to redeem that lost title? Can they stay healthy enough, or unbeaten? How will the opposition respond? They start out with a banger, against Division III Chaminade this week. Stay tuned.
Number 3) Tipp City…Seriously, a lot of people will read this and wonder why. For while Tipp has made a dozen consecutive trips to the playoffs under Charlie Burgbacher and second-year coach Joel Derge, you get the sense that this is a program that’s never really been taken seriously enough in football, always a second seat to Troy and Piqua in Miami County. A string of one-and-outs in the post-season has something to do with that, but their convincing win over heavily-favored Piqua last year in the Division III quarterfinals certainly opened some eyes. But consider. One, Derge, a disciple of Burgbacher’s as an assistant, is certainly his own man, even while running Charlie’s Wing-T offense. Two, like Coldwater, Tipp lost every starter on the field last year to graduation. Three, they’ve come back with numbers and plenty of motivation as they leave the Central Buckeye Confidence and welcome the bigger challenge of neighboring rivals Troy, Piqua, Butler and Sidney. The intrigue? Will they be successful on a regular diet of the bigger boys of the GWOC? And, will they finally get the respect they’ll deserve if they are? Are the days of “Yeah, but” about to be over…for Tipp football?
Number 4) Ft. Loramie…If less is actually more, I’m intrigued to see how a team so simplified in its offensive attack can manage against teams with greater advantage in size, depth, experience, and even reputation. You see, Ft. Loramie has only played football for something like twelve years and they’re winning by employing Whit Park’s commitment to the single wing offense…Teddy Roosevelt football, like your grandfather’s Oldsmobile. The intrigue here is that other teams don’t use the single wing, don’t play against it, and have no need to even prepare for it. Nobody runs it. So the first time you see Knute Rockne’s “flying wedge” coming at you, what do you do? It’s just simple block and tackle, the irresistible force versus the immovable object. Too old, some would say. Boring, say those obsessed with the spread and empty backfields. But Loramie’s kids have bought into it and it turned the fortunes of Loramie’s season last year after an 0-4 start. It put them into playoff contention. For added intrigue, I wonder if they’d consider no face masks this year? Or no helmets at all? Tough schedule, too. They’ll play “toughs” Minster in week 1, Ft. Recovery in week 2, and Lehman on Oct. 14. It may seem old-fashioned, but Redskin football is kinda’ fun to watch.
Number 5)….There are at least four more teams that I can write about, contingent upon a break here and an unexpected turn of fortune there…that could qualify for my fifth team. They call it “catching lightning in a bottle”. But the team I’ll settle on isn’t Sidney, or Lehman, or even Covington with their new coaching change. It’s Piqua. Piqua? They’re always good, you say. Well, but check the books. Because since their state title year in 2006, and the remnants of that team in 2007, they’ve actually been around a .500 team (40-41) since Brandon Saine, Justin Hemm, Phil Collier, Dusty Snyder and the Rolf Brothers moved on. They’ve had their highlights, though. After losing five straight to Troy from 2008-’12, the Indians have won the last four. The intrigue? HISTORY! Exactly ten years to the day of their greatest win ever (over Pickerington for the first-ever GWOC state title), they seem to have accumulated the kind of talent, size, and experience Bill Nees won with back then. And more history? Nees, in his 24th year, is still around to orchestrate things. They have Michigan State running back recruit, Darien Tipps-Clemons, what looks to be a favorable schedule, and they now play in Division III, not II. They were bitten by the injury bug last year, but those nicks and dings are gone and presumably the Indians are built for an extended post-season run. They’ll be fun if they do, and a lot of people will come out to watch. Including Press Pros!