There isn’t a Christmas tree or snowflake in site, but with apologies to Andy Williams and the Christmas song he made popular, August is the best month of the year. Practices and scrimmages are underway, and everyone is undefeated with hopes of staying that way.

It’s a question that we at Press Pros hear just about every day.

How many titles will the MAC win this season?

It’s an understandable question. The MAC has been the most dominant conference in the state for several years now, winning at least two state titles for each of the last four season. In 2014, Minster, Marion Local and Coldwater claimed nearly half of the big trophies awarded at Ohio Stadium.

My job on Friday nights is a little bit closer to home, and the 2016 season looks like an exciting one for several teams, at least in the second week of August. Tippecanoe’s move into the GWOC American North (New team, new name, I guess) has sparked renewed interest in a division that has been dominated by Trotwood for years.

The Rams suffered back-to-back losses to Troy and Piqua last season to snap a 32 game winning streak within the division that dated back to 2007. Trotwood had won 7 consecutive division titles, before Butler won the crown last season. The Rams got some consolation on the field last season, drubbing the Aviators 57-35 in the season finale and going on to win their 6th straight regional title.

So the ‘Beast’ has left the neighborhood, thanks to GWOC re-alignment. Troy, Piqua and Tippecanoe will still have to contend with the Rams this season, but the results will not effect the GWOC North standings.

The Rams are replaced in the division by the Tippecanoe Red Devils, who have made 11 straight playoff appearances and compiled a 101-25 record over that time. Second-year head coach Joel Derge has to replace 19 starters from last year’s 10-2 team which lost to, who else, Trotwood in the regional semifinals. The Red Devils won’t be total strangers in the division, having played Greenville for years, and knocking Piqua out of the playoffs last season.

You might not guess from this visual, but Piqua coach Bill Nees likes his chances with 9 returning starters in 2016.

You might not guess from this visual, but Piqua coach Bill Nees likes his chances with 9 returning starters  on defense in 2016.

Piqua brings back nine starters from a defense that led the North with 73 points allowed last season. Junior Austin Davis has settled in at quarterback, and Michigan State recruit Darien Tipps-Clemons is back to anchor not only the running game and the linebacking core. The Indians made the playoffs for the first time since 2007 last season, and are looking to repeat that feat with a deeper run this season.

There may not be a more intriguing team in the area than the Sidney Yellow Jackets. Sophomore quarterback Andre Gordon was the team MVP as a freshman after the Jackets finished 6-4 for their first winning record in 13 years. The Jackets have experienced, and still young, players at every skill position and have made no bones about the fact that they want to win replace Trotwood at the top of the division. Sidney hasn’t been in the post-season since 1989, and that’s another streak that should end if things go well for the Jackets.

Matt Burgbacher begins his second season at Troy after a year of improvement but not more wins. The Trojans went 2-8, but also took Northwest, Xenia and Butler down to the wire before falling. Senior quarterback Hayden Kotwica is back as a three-year starter to lead a diversified offense that averaged 23 points a game. Troy will have to improve a defense that allowed 35 points a night if they are to improve that record and snap a four-game losing streak to Piqua in the season finale.

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Nathan Hyatt is the new coach at Butler, but he certainly is no stranger to the Aviators. He’s taught at the school for 16 years, and was an assistant with the Aviators from 2000-2008. He returned to the Butler sidelines after a year at Bradford, where he revived a program that did not play football in 2014. The Aviators have a new quarterback in Tyler Buirley and a talented corps of wide receivers as they look to defend their division title.

Greenville rounds out the division. The Green Wave finished 4-6 last season, but ended on a high note with a 13-12 win over Sidney. The Wave scored just 19 points a game and allowed 30, and lost their quarterback and leading rusher, Clay Guillozet, to graduation.

Mark Lane hopes for more of a better thing in 2015, when the Milton Bulldogs returned to the post-season playoffs.

Mark Lane hopes for more of a better thing in 2015, when the Milton Bulldogs returned to the post-season playoffs.

Outside of the GWOC…Ty Cates is the new head coach at Covington, replacing Dave Miller, who moved on to Fairmont. While there will be some changes (more passing!) the work ethic of the players hasn’t changed. Neither will the results.

Milton-Union looks to build on last season’s 6-5 playoff team. Mark Lane is in his fourth season at his alma mater, and the Bulldogs won’t fool anyone with the game plan. They want to run the ball and control the clock. Zach Shields, who plays much bigger than his 5-8 and 150 pounds, ran for 1,049 yards and nine scores last season. Lane said earlier this summer that there was competition for all but four starting spots, and he expects the Bulldogs to improve on both sides of the ball.

A new twist to area high school football this year is the weekly Thursday night package that will air on Fox 45. Tippecanoe will renew its rivalry with Springfield Shawnee on September 1st, Butler hosts Northmont September 15th as those long-time rivals meet for the first time in several years, Piqua and Sidney will play for the Battered Helmet at Sidney’s Memorial Stadium on September 29th;  and Miami East travels to Covington for a Cross County Conference showdown on October 6th. Area coaches, players, and fans alike are excited about having the spotlight on their programs.

Area teams will have scrimmages this weekend and next, and the season kicks off the night of August 26th. Is is…the most wonderful time of year indeed!

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