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Year one of football in the newly formed Southwestern Ohio Conference already has an identity on the gridiron, smash-mouth football. The inaugural campaign will be highlighted by hard-hitters on both sides of the ball that dominate rosters up and down the league.
Opposing offenses will feel the aches and pains of every yard they earn in 2012. There are some real stars and accomplished players that could realistically elevate up to four teams into the Division II, Region 8 post-season.
The SWOC consists of five teams from the former FAVC Scarlet (Edgewood, Talawanda, Ross, Mount Healthy & Northwest), two from FAVC Cardinal (Wilmington and Little Miami), and one FAVC Buckeye squad (Harrison).
Some fun facts about the league: Wilmington will travel about 320 miles combined for their three conference road games; Four head coaches are alums of Miami of Ohio and two are graduates of Wilmington College; No running back, quarterback or receiver comes into the season with more than 1,000 yards rushing, passing or receiving for their career.
Here is an overview of the SWOC:
MOUNT HEALTHY OWLS
Division II, Region 8
Head Coach: Arvie Crouch (21-13 @ Mount Healthy, three years, 21-13 overall)
2011 Record: 8-2, 4-1 FAVC Scarlet
Overview: Quietly on the Northwest side of Cincinnati Mount Healthy has built themselves quite a program. The Owls finished 8-2 last season and just missed the playoffs. Head coach Arvie Crouch will look to guide his experienced squad back to the post-season for the eighth time since 2001. One thing is for sure about Crouch and his boys and that is they will battle you to the very end for the victory.
Defense will make the world go around for Mount Healthy. The Owls gave up just 10 points per game, less than 100 yards passing and rushing (per contest) while creating 36 turnovers in 2011. Expect more of the same this fall with a defensive line that includes Justin Lackey, Eric Finnell and Richard Chappell. The trio combined for 9.0 sacks in 2011. Linebackers Jordan Lackey and Aaron Powell can wreck havoc in the middle of the field. Secondary members Eric Pringle and Herbert Winston will have more than their far share of chances to make big plays.
Both of Mount Healthy’s losses in 2011 were by the score of 13-7 to Loveland and Northwest. Finding a way to punch the ball over the goalline against quality competition will be a top priority of this group. Quarterback Greg Green is back under center for a second season. He is surrounded by a wealth of talent at the skill positions. Eric Davis is primed for a big senior campaign. Receivers Josh Denham and Richard Johnson need to show they have breakaway speed. If they can separate from opposing defensive backs that opens a whole new dimensions to this offense. First Team All-FAVC lineman Theodore Harris will set the tone up front. Kicker and four-year starter Mason Bolser is one of the best in the city.
Division II, Region 8
Head Coach: Scott Clemmons (0-0 @ Edgewood, first year, 0-0 overall)
2011 Record: 3-7, 2-3
Overview: The Edgewood seniors will be playing for their third head coach in as many seasons. Long time assistant Scott Clemmons takes over the reins at his alma mater. Fortunately for Clemmons the cupboard was not left bare by his predecessor. The Cougars are going to give the opposition fits with all the talent they have returning.
It all gets started up front on offense with 2011 First-Team All-FAVC Scarlet selection, Chad Heineman, and classmate Corey Manning. Taking advantage of their protection will be quarterback Eric Pelfrey, who really took off down the stretch last fall. Pelfrey threw for 899 yards and nine touchdowns in his final six games as a junior. Having the gifted Al Pieratt lining up as a threat all over the field is a huge plus for Edgewood. Pieratt led the team in rushing and crossed the goalline nine times while amassing 1,249 all-purpose yards on his way to All-Conference honors a year ago. Tight end Cody Hall, athlete Mason Back and David Jones give the team depth at the skill positions.
Linebacker Matt Barger is a beast on defense. The senior is already a two-time First Team All-FAVC Scarlet selection. The secondary will also be an asset of the Cougars with Back and Hall providing leadership. Edgewood lost to Badin, Mount Healthy and Ross by seven points or fewer, showing that they could hang with the big boys. However, now is the time to take things to the next level. Getting over the hump will not be easy however in close games you have to like this team’s chances with a veteran kicker like Zach Griffin.
Division II, Region 8
Head Coach: Brian Butts (35-27 @ Ross, six years, 35-27 overall)
2011 Record: 8-3, 4-1 FAVC Scarlet
Overview: Entering his seventh season as the Ross head football coach, Brian Butts has gotten his program to a pretty good spot. His first four campaigns saw his squads go a combined 20-21, but they are 15-6 over the past two years. The Rams have made the post-season twice in the last three years. The foundation has been laid and now the Rams have begun to reload rather than rebuild on a yearly basis. “They want to win the first playoff game in school history” Butts chimes in on about his squad who is working hard this off-season in their chase for that dream.
Even though Ross has many two way starters they have depth and many of those players that make a difference do it on both sides of the ball. They lost some very good players, but have a lot of impact players from last year returning. That talent is most prevalent on the lines. Butts feels his team should be able to control the ball and that his defense should be very good again this season.
Across the front on offense is a mammoth group that includes Second Team All-FAVC Scarlet selections in right tackle Tyler Bridwell and the 6-foot-6, 285-pound junior right guard Gavin Peacock. Rounding out the line are left tackle Alex Scalia, center Heath Coppenger, as well as sophomore left guards Curtis New and Simon Stepaniak to go with bookend tight ends Gus Madden and Frank Heimkreiter. Running back Andrew Dunn might very well post one of the biggest seasons ever by a Ross runner. He gained 591 yards with eight touchdowns rushing as a sophomore in 2011. He will be backed up by Joseph Jones and Drew Chase. Fullbacks Adam Harris and Luke Hannon are punishing blockers. Junior Blake Ballard gets the nod at quarterback. Ballard won his only varsity last fall versus Little Miami. The receiving core looks for Brandon Fernandez or Shane Naegele to emerge as the number one option.
The defense is led by tackle and Special Mention All-Ohio performer, Heimkreiter. He is the centerpiece of a unit that allowed just 185 total yards and 12 points per game a year ago. He had 3.5 sacks from the inside. Ross has veterans at the linebacker position. Madden, an outside rush specialist, led the squad with 9.5 sacks. Lining up opposite of him will be Chase. Quinton Couch and Hannon will hold down the fort at inside linebacker. Safeties Jones and Fernandez were Second-Team All-FAVC Scarlet selections as juniors. Fernandez intercepted a team-high three passes, including a sensational 98-yard pick six against Norwood.
Division II, Region 8
Head Coach: Chad Murphy (9-11@ Northwest, two years, 9-11 overall)
2011 Record: 7-3, 4-1
Overview: The hunter now becomes the hunted. With 16 returning starters and 25 seniors, expectations are high for Northwest and their post-season hopes. The Knights will not be able to sneak up on teams like they did a year ago. Everyone will want a piece of this team. How head coach Chad Murphy and his squad handles the pressure remains to be seen, but there is no doubt that this program should make their first playoff appearance since 1991.
Defense is the name of the game for Northwest. In the trenches Lynneric Mathis, Darius White and Maurice Chapman are rock solid. Mathis registered 5.0 sacks and Chapman had 7.0 as a sophomore. Ameer Daniels and Michael Smith provide depth. Linebackers Rasheen Jones and Nolan Miller are arguably the league’s top two players at the position. Jones is the most highly recruited player in the conference. Miller recorded 9.0 sacks as a junior. The secondary will be a bit on the young side with newcomers Jamiel Trimble, DeVohn Jackson and Cortez McGinnis. The good news for Murphy is that veteran DeQuan Render is back there to provide leadership.
The most exciting part about the 2012 version of the Knights is their high-powered offense. Quarterback Cory Roberson is back after rushing for 435 yards and throwing for another 456 yard as a sophomore. Athlete Ra’Mar Hairston can line up and be a threat at a myriad of positions. He tallied eight rushing touchdowns as a junior. Corey McGinnis will see some carries at tailback. Render is the team’s top receiving threat. Jackson and Trimble will also get their chance to shine outside and downfield. Tight end Brandon Thompson is an option, but it is his blocking that sets him apart from the others. Daniels, White, Smith and Thompson provide the beef up front.
Division II, Region 8
Head Coach: JD Vonderheide (0-0 @ Talawanda, first year, 0-0 overall)
2011 Record: 0-10, 0-5 FAVC Scarlet
Overview: There is nowhere to go but up for new Talawanda head coach JD Vonderheide, who inherits a Braves team that went 0-10 last fall and is 3-37 over the past four seasons. Taking care of the football will be priority number one for Voderheide and his squad. Since the beginning of 2009 Talawanda has committed 111 turnovers in 30 contests. They have a -67 turnover ratio during that span. Fourteen times they have ended a game with at least a -3 or more disadvantage in that category.
A new look to Bowers Field may be enough to bring some excitement back to the fans, but execution will be what gets this team over the hump and back to respectability. Junior Colin Kimiecik returns for a second season under center. His classmates, Dakota Byrd and Christian Jones, will see their roles expand out of the backfield. An anemic showing in 2011 saw the squad score just 79 points and be shutout four times in the last seven outings. There has to be more accountability placed on this group moving forward.
Turnovers put the Braves’ defense in precarious situations to stop opponents from scoring all season long. Four times Talawanda gave up at least 51 points in an affair. Big things are expected from sophomore defensive end and tight end Eric Mincy. Secondary members Jon Abshire and Derek Wetzel will also see snaps on both sides of the ball. Hopes are high for Bobby Dellaripa taking his game to the next level and becoming an all-conference performer. There are many new faces, so breaking old habits and crating quality new ones might be easier than in years past.
Division II, Region 8
Head Coach: Rob Vida (45-35 @ Wilmington, eight years, 45-35 overall)
2011 Record: 7-3, 1-3 FAVC Cardinal
Overview: A 7-3 record in 2011 was good enough for fourth place in the FAVC Cardinal for Wilmington. Another season of seven victories might just see the ‘Canes end up in that same precarious situation for their efforts. They have some experienced players returning and overall team speed and strength should be good. They will have new faces that need to step in and hold the standard. Head coach Rob Vida has been encouraged by how team has worked during off-season workouts, but knows that he won't truly know how they will impact the team until August.
Defense is the name of the game up North. Wilmington is led by end Colt Briggs, a two-time Second Team All-Southwest District performer. He has 8.5 sacks, three fumble recoveries and two interceptions during his career. Linebacker David Henry loves contact and delivering blows. He recorded 4.0 sacks with a fumble recovery and an interception return for a touchdown on his way to Honorable Mention All-Southwest District honors as a junior. Kevin Phelps is an anchor at tackle. In the secondary Will Welsch and Austen Kessler have combined for seven interceptions at the varsity level.
Quarterback Cody McCune is back for his second season as the team’s signal-caller. He threw for 867 yards and six touchdowns as a sophomore. JT Lykins was Wilmington’s top receiving threat with 31 receptions for 336 yards and two scores in 2011. Henry led the team with 10 rushing touchdowns as the team’s goalline and short-yardage specialist. Kessler will get a shot at being the top tailback after posting 277 yards on the ground as a junior. Vida will look for increased productivity out of junior skill players Antwan Morris, Zach Day and Adrian Young on both sides of the ball. Day will challenge for the starting tailback spot.
Division II, Region 8
Head Coach: Kent McCullough (7-4 @ Harrison, one year, 7-4, overall)
2011 Record: 7-4, 5-0 FAVC Buckeye
Overview: No one predicted that Harrison would come out of the FAVC Buckeye with a league championship under first-year head coach Kent McCullough last fall. That feat will be hard to repeat in 2012 as the Wildcats lost 16 of their 22 starters off of that squad. Still McCullough and his troops promise to play an exciting brand of football after averaging 31 points per contest last fall.
Three of Harrison’s four losses were by four points or less in 2011. The defense gave up just 11 points per game while posting three shutouts. Seniors Truman Gutapfel and Jon Schneider will be called upon to show the youngsters how to get it done. Both players are coming off First Team All-FAVC Buckeye selections. McCullough needs players stepping up in key positions and the seniors taking ownership of the team and program.
The holes at the skill spots on offense couldn’t be any more glaring as the Wildcats must replace a two-time All-Ohio receiver, a three year starter at quarterback and a whole new backfield. Fortunately the team returns two savvy veterans in receiver AJ Glines and lineman Ben King. Glines was a First Team All-FAVC Buckeye selection after catching 37 passes for 424 yards with four touchdowns as a sophomore last season. Help in the backfield could come from Ryan Long and Luke Bowman. The duo combined to rush for 457 yards in backup roles in 2011. Long could see some action on defense in the secondary as well. Don’t look past Glines working at tailback either as all nine of his carries came during the team’s last five outings a year ago.
LITTLE MIAMI PANTHERS
Division II, Region 8
Head Coach: Rob Begley (1-9 @ Little Miami, one year, 1-9 overall)
2011 Record: 1-9, 0-4 FAVC Cardinal
Overview: The landscape of athletics has changed dramatically at Little Miami over the past couple of years. The football program is in the midst of a major transformation. The battles that head coach Robbie Begley is facing have left him in uncharted waters. Having a year of stability under Begley is only going to helps this team through the wars though.
In a league where team after team can bring waves of players at you, Little Miami will have to play injury-free to compensate for their lack of depth. The Panthers are blessed with speed at the skill positions led by junior running back Matt McDonald, who scored six touchdowns and racked up 987 all-purpose yards in his varsity debut last fall. Receivers CJ Hobbs and DJ Jones are capable of breaking off big plays. The versatile Dustin Vice causes even more problems for opponents to plan against. Carl Oeder and Cole Towner provide girth up front. This is a squad that scored seven points or fewer five times a season ago. They must do a better job of finding the end zone and take some pressure off a taxed defense.
Linebackers Mike McKeehan and Chase Lane are solid at linebacker. McKeehan was an Honorable Mention All-FAVC Cardinal selection a year ago. Dane O’Connell and Towner will be asked to provide help on the line. Five times in the last eight games of 2011 Little Miami gave up at least 42 points. The Panthers have to find a way to stop upper echelon teams from scoring if they want to make a move up in class.
Greg is a co-founder of TSF and is now entering his ninth season as a Featured Analyst for the website. The Xavier University grad also serves as the Content Manager for the website and is widely considered one of the top high school football experts in the region. If you are interested in covering your team, please CONTACT US.