BRYAN – As is typical when a defending league champion returns a roster of 15 letter winners and 10 seniors, they are more than likely to be the preseason favorite going into that season.
That was the case Sunday at the annual Northwest Ohio Athletic League football coaches meeting in Bryan where Patrick Henry was the presumptive favorite amongst the league coaches. The Patriots, who last season went unscathed through league play while on their way to the playoffs, received seven of eight first place votes.
Bryan was picked second in the voting, Archbold and Liberty Center tied for third, Wauseon fifth, Evergreen sixth, Swanton seventh and Delta eighth.
The show of faith in PH and veteran coach Bill Inselmann, came after he highlighted how low the school’s enrollment numbers are. He said, with a lighthearted tone, that he was ‘disappointed’ his fellow coaches would pick them when they are the “smallest kids on the bus.” Something his father taught him never to do growing up, Inselmann joked.
The other school receiving a first place vote was Archbold, who returns 15 starters from a team that finished 7-3 and just missed a playoff berth.
Returning skill position players and overall team speed are strengths for the Blue Streaks this season. Losses on the offensive and defensive lines are a potential weakness.
The key to the season is being prepared each week. “For us to compete this year, week in and week out, it’s gonna be (about) preparation,” said head coach David Dominique. “We always say, good teams don’t have two bad practices in a row. You’re gonna have some bad practices, that’s the way it is, but the big thing for us is to come back the next day and get better.”
Delta’s Nate Ruple is one of three new coaches in the league. However, this is nothing new to Ruple as he coached the Panthers from 2009-12.
The Panthers have 39 kids out this season, a good number according to Ruple. However, with only six returning seniors, experience is hard to come by.
“We are gonna be young, very inexperienced,” explained Ruple. “We have a fairly new system going in this season. So for us, it’s all about getting better each week. Teaching those fundamentals and getting our kids to play as hard as they possibly can week in and week out.”
Evergreen has 41 kids on the roster, but only 29 come from the top three grades. As a result, depth could be an issue.
The Vikings, who were 4-6 last season, will be solid in the trenches on the offensive and defensive lines according to coach Aaron Schmidt. That’s even with losing four starters on the offensive line from a season ago.
They will also be solid at the offensive skill positions.
The second new coach in the league is Denton Saunders at Swanton. He will have 17 returning letter winners to work with.
Saunders referenced going from the Wing T to more of a spread offense being a challenge for some of his players. But, he said the players are ‘picking it up.’
“We have good athletes on the edge. We’ve got good team speed,” said Saunders of his team. “Our players have a lot of Friday night experience. And there is excitement around the program right now.”
The Bulldogs had their first scrimmage Friday with Montpelier, and Saunders called it the ‘perfect’ scrimmage in terms of what they took away from it.
“We did some good things, we did some really bad things, and nobody got hurt,” said the first-year coach. “We left that scrimmage feeling good in some aspects. Still had film and was able to teach off of that film. And we’re healthy.”
Wauseon’s new head coach is Shawn Moore, who like Ruple, is an alum of the school he will now be guiding. He likes what he has back at the skill positions on offense, as well as at the back-end of the defense.
“Quarterback (Cody Figy) played a little bit at the end of the year. We’ve got a lot of kids that can catch the ball,” said Moore on the offensive fire power returning for the Indians. “We will change our offense to more of a spread this year to accomodate our skill guys and get them on the field. I think it’s been a positive move so far. The kids have liked it. They are working hard at practice.”
Having to replace most of the offensive and defensive line is a potential weakness the Indians have. However, that mainly results from not having seen them against live competition, outside of a scrimmage with Maumee this past Saturday. So line play could turn into a strength with the more reps those players see.
Reach Max Householder at 419-335-2010