PREBLE COUNTY — It’s kickoff time in Preble County.
High school football returns this week, beginning on Thursday, Aug. 19, with Eaton traveling to Greenville for a televised game on ABC22/FOX 45. The remaining four teams will hit the gridiron on Friday night with National Trail visiting Milton-Union, Preble Shawnee traveling to Miami East, Tri-County North making a trip to rival Brookville and Twin Valley South hosting Carlisle. All games are scheduled to kickoff at 7 p.m.
Coaches and players alike are looking forward to having fans — not just family members — in the stands cheering them on, along with the sounds of the bands and cheerleaders.
Optimism is abound from all five county coaches with hopes of competing for league titles and possible playoff berths in the two conferences county teams play in.
Eaton remains in the Southwestern Buckeye League, which will now boast two five-team divisions (East and West) with the departure of Dixie, Preble Shawnee, Milton-Union and Northridge.
The Eagles will now be in SWBL West Division with Brookville, Carlisle, Madison and Valley View.
National Trail, Preble Shawnee, Tri-County North and Twin Valley South are in the newly formed Western Ohio Athletic Conference, which is made up of eight football playing teams from the former Cross County Conference and two from the SWBL.
Eagles ready to return to glory
Eaton returns 14 lettermen from a team that went 5-5 last season, and expectations are high going into this season. Eaton will rely on the veteran group to challenge for an SWBL West Division title and a possible playoff berth.
“We really like who we have back in terms of we have 14 returning lettermen out of a total roster of 47, and of those 14, five will be four-year lettermen. There’s a ton of experience,” coach Brad Davis said.
The four-year players are Josh Martin (WR/DB), Theo Winings (WR/DB), Christian Reyna (WR/DB), Ashton Geoit (RB/LB) and Gabe Puckett (OL/DL).
“Most of those guys are earned their first letter as special teams guys their freshman year but then have been one, if not two way starters, for the last three years,” Davis said.
Also back are Drew Michael (K), Brock Ebright (QB), Leslie Orr (WR/DB), Aiden Williams (RB/DB), Brady Rice, (OL/DL), Reid Tinstman (OL/DL), Breyden Boston (TE/DL), Hayden Bratton (DL/OL) and Garrett Cole (DB/WR)
“At any given moment we’re going to have a bunch of experience out on the field, which we feel really good about as a coaching staff,” Davis said. “So with that comes some responsibility too and that’s what we’re trying to get these guys to really kind of understand.”
“It’s going to be interesting just because there’s some teams on our schedule that we haven’t played, quite honestly, for just a long time,” he said. “Lot of coaching changes so it’s kind of up in the air. It’ll be interesting just to kind of see how things shake out. But in terms with the team we have and what we think we can do, if we show up and we take care of our business and how our schedules aligned in terms of the East and the West divisions, there’s no reason why we can’t be at the top of our division.”
Davis said fans can expect this year’s team to play a fast, physical game.
“I’d like to think that fans can see us playing fast, physical, fundamental football, first and foremost,” he said. “Hopefully (score) a lot a lot of points on offense and not give up a lot of points defensively.
Trail relying on seniors to lead this season
Veteran coach Mark Hoffman said his team has a solid core of sophomore and juniors, but will rely on his six seniors to lead a team coming off a 4-4 season.
This year’s group of seniors include Garrett Jones (WR/DB), Alex Allen (WR/DB), Colby Richardson (WR/LB), Jonathan McLane (HB/DB), Ethan Wilson (OL/DL) and Matt Toller (OL/DL).
The work team team put in during the off-season has Hoffman believing his team can be successful.
“We’re going to be a factor that you’re going to deal with every game. I’m not going to sit here and say we’re going to win the league. Because I don’t know that,” he said. “The only thing that I know is this, the things that we’ve done in the weight room and the things that we’ve done over the winter, can transfer to the field. It gives you a chance to be successful. It’s going to give us that chance. What we do with that is up to us, you know, it’s up to the kids.”
The Blazers will field a team of 37 players.
Hoffman said he expects the entire junior class to be contributors as well as several sophomores.
“All those guys, they’re going to be on field. And with the exception of (one) they’re all starters,” Hoffman said. “So really, basically all our sophomore and juniors are starting. They’re going to really contribute. “
Hoffman believes his team will be competitive with the top teams.
“We can be pretty good and we’re going to be competitive in this league,” he said. “Of course you’ve got to beat the people at the top. You’ve got to beat Tri-Village. You’ve got toe beat Arcanum. Arcanum is going to be good.”
Hoffman said his team should be exciting to watch this season.
“You’re gonna see an offense that comes with a lot of power. We’re going to run some T. We’re gonna line it up and we’re going man-on-man. But we’re also going to spread it. We’re going to run trips. We’re going to run doubles, we’re gonna run that kind of stuff,” he said. “And the reason we can run a variety is because we can run a variety. There’s two reasons that you run the spread. You either run the spread, because you can run this spread, or you run the spread to try to spread everybody out. And you can run it people. Really, we can do both.”
Youthful Arrows hope to make impact in new conference
Preble Shawnee coach David Maddox’s team has limited returning experience and lower numbers than he would like, but the fourth year coach likes what he does have coming back from a team that went 3-4 last season.
Maddox said he only has three seniors on the roster of 28 with a core group of juniors making up most of the experience.
Returning are Evan Riley, Beau Nemeth, Grady Hutchinson, Hunter Crockett, Brayden Doran, Xavier Adams, Cole Hawkins, Dylan Campbell, Sage Stephenson, Aiden Walters and Cooper Roell.
“We have a lot of juniors [and we’ll] sprinkle in a couple freshmen and sophomores and a few seniors to,” Maddox said.
Despite the limited numbers Maddox has his sights to be near the top of the WOAC and contend for a playoff berth this season.
“I expect us to be able to compete every single week,” he said. “So I think we’ve got a chance to win every single game, as long as we stay healthy. That’s going to be the key for us because we don’t have any kind of depth. I honestly expect us to win eight nine games, so long as we stay healthy.”
He said moving from the SWBL to the WOAC is a good move.
“I think it’s a good, good thing for us,” he said. “I feel like it levels the playing field a little bit for us, we’re just not quite as outnumbered as what we were in the past.”
Maddox said fans can expect to see his team play hard each week.
“I expect our guys to just play hard, do everything in our power and our ability to give us a shot to win and not make stupid mistakes that kill us,” he said. “But they going to play hard and they don’t play physical and they’re going to battle each and every week.”
Numbers low for North as Hall returns for 2nd season
With a roster of just 24 players, 17 of which are either freshman or sophomores, Tri-County North will try to avoid injuries to stay competitive this year.
The Panthers, under Adam Hall, who is now is in his second season, are coming off a 3-6 campaign from a year ago.
“We had a lot of guys that got time last year as freshmen so we’ve seen how they do. We’re starting a lot of sophomores,” Hall said. “We’re thin. That’s the thing, if we have a guy get injured then we definitely got younger underclassmen going in to replace them. We got five seniors on the team and we got two juniors.”
Hall said his team will rely on the leadership of seniors Luke Eby (RB/LB) and Brett Woodyard (RB/LB), who are returning starters.
Sophomore quarterback Logan Flory also returns. Up front the Panthers will run behind Riley Allen and John Shirley. Alex Klingenberger also saw limited time last season.
Hall said his team is ready for the season to begin and beat Brookville.
“We’re just trying to put ourselves in the best position to do that and we’re starting the new conference,” he said. “We’re excited about that. We got some people that we’ve been playing for years now and some new faces, so I think that’ll be good to have a mixture of both. So, I think, overall, we’re so excited to get going here. We’ve had two weeks of two-a-days. Thee guys are ready to get into the grind that night.”
The Panthers will stay true to tradition.
“We’re going to run the football. I think the thing about our team is that we have backs that run really hard. And our quarterback is more than capable throwing it and we were able to do that too,” Hall said. “We’re just trying to hold on to the ball and move it the best we can, and only defense, we run to the ball and try not to give up the big play.”
South looking to bounce back after 1-9 campaign
With 10 seniors on the roster, Twin Valley South coach Chris Fogle will be relying on that leadership to help turn around a program that has been down the past couple of season, including going 1-9 last year.
“I’m happy with that,” Fogle said. “I wish I had a few more freshmen. My freshmen didn’t come out as much but this freshman class historically didn’t have that many playing. But I did get a few more juniors than I’d had in the past. I have like eight or nine juniors now so I got more coming.”
Returning are Riley Maggard, Brendan Webb and Connor Napier, Cole Bishop, Cais Kingsley, Wyatt Lakes and Matthew Cornett.
“My offensive and defensive backfields are predominantly sophomores and juniors. A lot of my line is my older ones, which are my seniors,” Fogle said.
Fogle said the 37-player roster is mostly seniors and sophomores.
“We’re sophomore, senior heavy pretty much and the majority of my skill players are sophomores and juniors,” he said.
Fogle said he is looking for contributions from Eric Allison, Cole McNinch.
Fogle believes with a year in the new system his team will be much improved this season.
“I’m expecting to be more competitive and match up speed wise, match up, maybe not size wise we don’t have to necessarily the height, but we have speed and strength,” he said. “I think we can be fairly competitive in the new league. Our kids are super excited about the new season, a new conference. They’re excited that they can be competitive. Not that we weren’t competitive with the other schools that left.”
Fogle said he plans to mix things up this season.
“We’re going to play hard-nosed football. Fast football,” Fogle said. “We’re gonna play fast. We mix it up a little bit we do some uptempo, we’ll go from the line do some up tempo. And it’s not necessarily all spread, but it’s a mix of run-pass.”
Reach Eddie Mowen Jr. at 937-683-4061 and follow on Twitter @emowenjr