COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Week one of Football Friday Nite is one day away and in order to get you ready for the new season, NBC4 digital sports reporter Justin Holbrock breaks down the title contenders, the dark horses and the best Central Ohio players.
Division I Favorite: Pickerington Central owns Central Ohio
Pickerington Central is coming off its second-straight state championship appearance and third in five years. The Tigers are more motivated than ever after a blowout 44-3 loss to St. Xavier in the title game last year. Arguably the most talented team in Central Ohio includes five-star junior safety Sonny Styles and a pair of 2022 Cincinnati commits in three-star defensive linemen Tyler Gillison and CJ Doggette. Two other Tigers, Kwabena Asamoah (OL, Rutgers) and Dakari Frazier (DL, Ball State) will also play a major role this season.
Under 19-year head coach Jay Sharrett, the Tigers have won the OCC 14 of the last 15 years as well as five-straight regional titles. Perhaps no team has a harder non-conference schedule than the Tigers who face Massillon Washington away week one, Elder on the road week two and North Alleghany at home week three.
Other Contenders: Marysville, Westerville Central and Olentangy Liberty.
Dark Horse: Dublin Coffman and Pickerington North. The Rocks brought in Geron Stokes to replace longtime coach mark Crabtree and also have a solid quarterback in Mason Maggs. Meanwhile, Pickerington North will hang its hat on defense with senior Eli Coppess leading the charge and quarterback Landon O’Connell, although young as a sophomore, has already garnered attention from colleges including an offer from Bowling Green.
Division II Contenders: Westerville South and Olentangy
Westerville South and Olentangy made the furthest run of any Central Ohio team last year before both came up short in the regional semifinals. Last year, South had its most successful season since 2012 when the Wildcats went 7-1 before falling to Massillon Washington 45-36 in the regional semifinals.
The Wildcats may have the best player in all of Division II in wide receiver Kaden Saunders who’s committed to Penn State and they also have a very talented offensive tackle in Tyler O’Reilly.
Meanwhile, Mark Solis enters his eighth season at Olentangy and the Braves have made the playoffs every year he’s been there. Expect more of the same and perhaps even a deep playoff run by the Braves who only lost by three points to Massillon Perry last year in the regional semifinals.
Dark Horse: Dublin Scioto. Quarterback Amare Jenkins has an offer from Dayton and an impressive senior year could get him some more interest from Power 5 teams, including Kentucky and LSU.
Division III Contenders: DeSales and Hartley
St. Francis DeSales went to double overtime in last year’s Division III state championship only to fall to Chardon 31-28. The Stallions lose the best running back in school history in Quintell Quinn who broke the all-time leading rushing record with 3,363 career yards. But the good news for the Stallions is the return of senior Jordan Thompson who will take over the starting running back role and continue to play linebacker. DeSales also returns its starting quarterback in senior Whit Hobgood who played a pivotal role in leading the Stallions to the title game.
“We know we were close but I think our message has been that everything starts over,” DeSales head coach Ryan Wiggins said. “You learn from last year and you try to build off of things and remember it but I think the worst mistake you can make is thinking that you’re just going to do it again.”
Wiggins said it’ll take time for DeSales to be as good as they were last year with the departure of several seniors, especially on the offensive and defensive line.
“Up front on both sides of the ball is where we lost a lot of guys, so we’ve got to retool there,” Wiggins said. “We have a good group of young guys that are excited and ready. It’s their turn now.”
Dark Horse: Sheridan and Eastmoor. The Generals played a hard-fought, defensive battle in last year’s regional semifinals but ultimately fell to Hartley 10-6. Sheridan returns a few talented players, including running back Jason Munyan but they did lose a few key players up front and also have two quarterbacks who may split playing time until one earns the starting job outright.
Eastmoor will rely on offensive lineman Jalen Slappy who has seven Division I offers along with junior quarterback Ahmad Armstrong. The Warriors lost to Walnut Ridge in the City League championship, so both teams, along with Northland, will have a chance to claim the city league title in 2021.
Division IV Contenders: Bloom-Carroll and Licking Valley
Bloom-Carroll had it best season in school history last year as the Bulldogs made their first appearance in the state semifinals. The Bulldogs were on the precipice of reaching the title game but couldn’t convert on fourth and goal to force overtime against Mentor Lake Catholic. Bloom-Carroll’s defense was smothering all year giving up a total of 27 points in their first nine games. Luke Ferrell returns as an all-state defensive lineman to lead the charge along with defensive back and wide receiver Beau Wisecarver.
Licking Valley will need young players to step up but the Panthers are always a contender with Randy Baughman at the helm as he enters his 46th season.
Dark Horse: Heath. Tim Ward enters his fourth season with the Bulldogs who are coming off back-to-back winning seasons after having only one winning season from 2011 to 2017.
Division V Contenders: Harvest Prep and Columbus Academy
Harvest Prep will give opponents fits, especially on defense with the return of running back Jaylen Jennings who’s committed to Bowling Green. The Warriors will also benefit from the experience of last year’s playoff run where they took Ironton down to the wire before losing 21-14 in regional semifinals.
Once again on the Warriors heels will be Columbus Academy, which lost to Harvest Prep 20-17 in regional quarterfinals. The two teams will face off Sept. 10 and although early in the season, that game could be a good indication for will have a more successful 2021 season.
Division VI Contender: West Jefferson
The Roughriders went 7-2 last season with their regional semifinal playoff loss coming at the hands of Coldwater, which went on to win the Division VI state championship. West Jeff gets Tyler Buescher back at quarterback and looks primed to not only make their sixth-straight playoff appearance, but also make a title push as well.
Division VII Contenders: Trimble and Newark Catholic
Newark Catholic beat Tremble 35-19 in regional semifinals on its way to the Final 4 last year. The Green Wave lost 20-13 in the state semifinals to John F. Kennedy but return a few key players, including defensive end and running back Drew Hess and junior quarterback Cole Canter who showed out during his sophomore year.
Meanwhile, the Trimble Wildcats are led by Phil Faires who enters his 28th season as the team’s head coach. Only Hartley and Pickerington Central have more games than Trimble during the past decade and the TVC-Hocking will once again run through Glouster.