After a period of stability and playoff success brought by nationally-recruited, record-setting quarterbacks and gaudy numbers put up by a handful of running backs, the Western Buckeye League will have a lot of new faces in key spots in what should be a wide-open race.
The Midwest Athletic Conference had another banner year with five playoff teams, two teams in state championship games and Marion Local adding a fifth state title. The league has a quartet of teams that look like state title contenders again this season.
As the high school football season quickly approaches (practices started today), here’s a look at 10 storylines around Auglaize County, the Western Buckeye League, the Midwest Athletic Conference and the area for 2012 season:
New Look WBL
The Western Buckeye League was home to two of the best high school quarterbacks in Ohio for the last four years. Kenton’s Maty Mauk re-wrote the national high school record book (18,932 yards passing and 222 touchdowns over his four seasons) and Reggie McAdams lifted what was a down-on-its-luck program at Elida into back-to-back playoff appearances.
The league also lost most of its top ground-gainers, as well. Six of the top seven ground-gainers in the WBL graduated. The graduation losses start with the St. Marys’ first-ever 2,000-yard rusher D.J. Manning, along with Bath’s Aaron Smith (1,534 yards, 15 TDs) and Wapakoneta’s Connor Pickens (1,508 yards, 26 TDS in the regular season). Defiance’s Nick Lopez (1,230 yards), Maty Mauk of Kenton (1,204 yards) and Sam Altenbach of Shawnee (1,120 yards) also graduated. Only O-G senior running back Tristan Parker (1,320 yards in the regular season) is back this season.
Roughriders look to keep building
Before last season’s 4-6 season, St. Marys Memorial football hadn’t gone three straight seasons at .500 or worse since a stretch between 1939 and 1943. But Greg Phillips’ as head coach first season saw improvement for the Roughriders. They were at 3-2 early in the season with a dramatic win over Bath and won the most important game of the season against Celina before a rugged schedule led to losses in four of their last five games. St. Marys improved its offense by almost 14 points per game, but the defense gave up 30.2 points per game. The Riders will need to deal with the loss of WBL rushing champion D.J. Manning, first-team All-WBL center Austin Rupard, second team All-WBL tackle Steven Elshoff, and honorable mention All-WBL linemen Seth Fitzgerald and Tyler Hunt. St. Marys got a system in place in 2011. Now the Roughriders will see how much the familiarity with that system pays off in 2012.
The WBL and MAC hope to follow up a 2011 season that saw a lot of postseason success. The WBL put four teams in the playoffs last season, with Kenton falling in the state title game in Division IV. Elida came up a game short of the state title game in Division III. The MAC had five playoff teams. Marion Local won its fifth state championship with a Division VI crown, led by underclassmen standout and Division I prospect quarterback Adam Bertke. Coldwater fell a win short of a state title in Division V. , and the Cavaliers have senior quarterback Austin Bruns returning.
Minster looks for 3rd straight playoffs
Minster is looking for its third straight playoff appearance in Nate Moore’s third season. The Wildcats, who have become fodder for Springfield Catholic Central’s nightmares after emerging from the Irish’s home field for the second straight opening playoff game with a win, have six starters back on offense and six starters back on defense. That includes a pair of running backs who each rushed for more than 800 yards in Korey Schultz and Troy Kauffman.
Minster brings back a player who is shooting up recruiting rankings at the tight end position. Minster junior tight end Ethan Wolf has vaulted up the recruiting boards over the past year. A six-foot-six tight end with the athletic lineage and skillset to play at a high Division I level. Wolf caught 18 passes for 266 yards and two touchdowns as a sophomore. Wolf is making his way back from wrist injury this spring he suffered at the Ohio State football camp. Wolf has received offers from more than a handful of Division I schools, including the Cincinnati Bearcats.
Forget the complex equations and mental gymnastics needed to understand the OHSAA’s proposed competitive balance proposal. The OHSAA tried to pass it twice in the past year. Both times it failed. The association says it’s done trying to get one passed. The fallout from the schools still disgruntled with the current system is yet to be seen. While the balance proposal failed again, there will be changes in the near future. The OHSAA will add a seventh division in 2013. Most area teams will move down one division. Look for the Midwest Athletic Conference to gain the most from the change, adding another small school division to dominate. In 2014 the state football championships will return to the Horseshoe in Columbus for the first time since 1989.
Coaching Changes Around the WBL, MAC
— Bob Priest is out at Van Wert after an 0-10 season with the Cougars and Keith Recker, a Delphos St. John’s grad, comes from Oak Harbor where he was the offensive coordinator.
— Jason McGaharan replaces Rob Messick at New Bremen. Messick is now an assistant coach under Nate Moore at Minster after an 0-10 season as the Cardinals’ head coach. McGaharan was an assistant coach at his alma mater Northwood.
— Bob Olwin left Versailles to take the job at Lake High School, leaving a Versailles team that brings back All-Ohio quarterback Nick Campbell to the guidance of new coach Adam Miller. Miller said Versailles will return to a more ground-based attack after three seasons of Olwin’s wide-open spread attack.
McGarahan takes over at New Bremen
Listen to Jason McGaharan speak and you’ll start believing he can do what not many have been able to do: win a lot of football games at New Bremen. McGaharan takes over a New Bremen program that has won just 14 games since 2005. McGarahan, who fought through two life-threatening medical issues in high school and played at the collegiate level at Ohio Northern, is a young, strong voice for the Cardinal program. But the MAC is a tough test and it’s been since 2004 New Bremen made the playoffs.
Wapak rolling along
In 20011, Wapakoneta returned to the playoffs for the first time since 2006 with a 9-1 regular season, a second-place finish in the Western Buckeye League and a first-round playoff win. Doug Frye has turned the program into a winner from his first day there in 2010, and the veteran coach now will be looking to win Wapak’s first WBL title since 2006. Wapakoneta loses All-WBL fullback Connor Pickens and four of the five linemen who paved the way to Pickens’ 1,500-yard rushing season. Wapak brings back five starters on offense, including senior quarterback Kyle Gibson. Gibson emerged mid-season as a strong conductor of Wapak’s ‘Wing N’ Fling’ offense. Jensen Merricle and Josh Windle both come back at the running back spots. Wapak has 16 returning letterwinners.
Celina looks for bounce back
Celina built up expectations after a six-win season in 2010, but 2011 didn’t have the same magic for Jared Rolfes’ Bulldogs. Celina won just two games, but they have the type of quarterback to bounce back. Braden Billger threw for 2,702 yards and 28 touchdowns last year, but a defense that gave up 35.8 points per gamea season ago will need to improve.
John Zerbe started his tenure as Spencerville’s head coach 0-20. The turnaround was sudden last year. Zerbe switched the Bearcats to a ground-based offense last season and they won eight games, went a perfect 5-0 at home and narrowly missed out on the postseason. With the offense that scored more than 35 points per game last season returning seven starters, Spencerville will look for continued success.